Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are widely used chemicals that persist in the environment for very long periods of time earning them the nickname “Forever Chemicals.” PFAS are found in water, air, soil, and food sources all over the world. PFAS have been primarily linked to testicular and kidney cancer, but animal studies also suggest links to prostate, thyroid, liver, breast, ovarian, bladder, esophageal, and pancreatic cancers. Stag Liuzza briefly discussed some of the main sources of PFAS contamination in the United States and wanted to expound upon a source that does not get as much attention as AFFF Fire Fighting Foam, waterproof clothing, and non-stick pans, namely food packaging.
Consumer Reports Find “Forever Chemicals” in Fast-Food Wrappers
Restaurants and food distributors across the nation have used PFAS coated paper products to prevent grease and other liquids from soaking through the packaging as well as to stop food from sticking to the paper. Consumer Reports recently published an article identifying PFAS in food packaging from various fast-food restaurants. Consumer Reports tested more than 100 food packaging products during a two-month period across several states. Of the 24 restaurants from which Consumer Reports sampled food packaging, nearly half of them sold at least one product with packaging that contained more than 20ppm PFAS. Chick-fil-A, Burger King, Arby’s, and Mc Donald’s were retailers having some of the highest PFAS values in their food contact packaging, ranging from 250 ppm to 550 ppm.
PFAS from Packaging Can Leach into Food Items
Millions of food packaging containers are disposed of in landfills each year where PFAS chemicals leach out into the soils and groundwater. More concerning is that it is also well known that these toxic PFAS substances leach from the food packaging into the foods that we eat. Leaching of PFAS into foods from packaging is more likely when the food is fatty, salty, or acidic. Heat also increases the likelihood of leaching. Additional comprehensive studies are necessary to fully understand the negative public health impacts PFAS containing food packaging has caused over the years.
Lack of PFAS Regulation for Food Packaging
Despite the clear and present danger, there are presently no state or federal limits for PFAS in contact food packaging in the U.S. California is the first state to propose regulating PFAS in food packing by introducing a 100-ppm limit for 2025. Denmark was the first country to ban PFAS in food packaging in 2019. Meanwhile in response to the Consumer Reports Article, McDonald’s claims they intend to eliminate PFAS containing packaging by 2025 while Burger King and Chick-fil-A committed to “reducing” PFAS in their packaging. There are safer alternative packaging products available, but self-regulation is not likely to protect the public. The food service industry will likely continue to rely on PFAS containing packaging for as long as they are allowed.
Contact Your Representatives
If you are concerned about PFAS in your food packaging, we implore you to contact your state and federal representatives to express your support for regulation of PFAS in food packaging.