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Dangerous Chemicals in Fast Food Other Than MSG

author image Emma Watkins
Emma Watkins writes on finance, fitness and gardening. Her articles and essays have appeared in "Writer's Digest," "The Writer," "From House to Home," "Big Apple Parent" and other online and print venues. Watkins holds a Master of Arts in psychology.
Dangerous Chemicals in Fast Food Other Than MSG
Woman serving customers fast food Photo Credit: Steve Mason/Photodisc/Getty Images

From grilled chicken treated with carcinogens to french fries laced with the chemicals used to make Teflon, your options for eating fast food contaminated with harmful substances are endless -- even if MSG were banned. To make matters worse, the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, does not require food manufacturers to disclose some ingredients, such as artificial flavoring, in certain products.

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PhIP is short for “2-Amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo[4,5-b]pyridine,” a chemical that appears in the grilled chicken marketed by a major fast-food chain, says the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. The organization says the substance, which forms when meat is heated to a certain temperature, is associated with human breast, prostate and colon cancers.


PAPs stands for “polyfluoroalkyl phosphate esters,” chemicals that line fast-food packaging to make it grease- and waterproof. The substances leach to the food inside the packaging and end up in your bloodstream. The blood of more than 90 percent of Americans is contaminated with this class of chemicals, according to a 2003 press release of the Environmental Working Group. PAPs are the same substances used to make Teflon. Once in your body, they break down into perfluoro-octanoic acid, or PFOA, a chemical toxic to humans at low levels. The Environmental Working Group says PFOA is linked to a number of health problems, including cancer and liver disease.

Caramel Coloring

Caramel coloring can be found in a number of fast foods, from cakes and sauces to sodas. Two of its ingredients are 2-methylimidazole and 4-methylimidazole. A study by the National Toxicology Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says 2-methylimidazole causes cancer in lab rats. Researchers also tested the effects of 4-methylimidazole on lab rats and mice. They concluded from the experiment “There was clear evidence of carcinogenic activity of 4-methylimidazole in male and female B6C3F mice…”

Sodium Nitrite and Sodium Nitrate

Virtually every piece of bacon, sausage, hot dog or ham you get from a fast-food restaurant contains sodium nitrite or sodium nitrate. Manufacturers use the additive to retain meat color and to inhibit bacterial growth on the food. Both chemicals can break down into nitrosamines, substances with the potential to cause cancer.

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