At this point, it’s common knowledge that the fast-food industry taps into a lot of complex chemistry to make sure the food it delivers has a consistent look, taste, and aroma. Being able to replicate these qualities is the secret sauce that has enabled these global restaurant behemoths to expand so rapidly. Most of these ingredients, such as ammonium sulfate and propylene glycol, have been vetted for safety by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, earning them the title of GRAS (generally recognized as safe).
But the FDA frequently re-evaluates additives in light of new findings, and just this year, a group of perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), which are commonly used to coat pizza boxes, pastry wrappers, and take-out containers, were found to have adverse effects on hormones, neurological systems, and were linked to certain cancers. The FDA is also considering banning certain previously approved flavoring agents — which are currently unlisted on ingredient labels — because of evidence that they might be carcinogenic.
Though many of the stabilizers, emulsifiers, flavoring agents, and preservatives added to fast foods are most likely safe, they still raise the question: What am I actually eating?
Here are 10 ingredients that you won’t believe are in your fast food.