Toxic Forever Chemicals Lurking in Eco-Friendly Food Packaging?

Some health- and environment-conscious consumers and food retailers are starting to think they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.   Even when they opt for the newer, “healthier and more eco-friendly” food packaging over plastic or Styrofoam for takeout meals there seems to be problems.  In this case (as there was previously with Whole Foods food packaging for their deli offerings) there is evidence suggesting that the compost-based, eco-friendly food packaging used by some carryout restaurants and delis contain toxic PFAS chemicals which have been demonstrated to leach into the food–and therefore into the consumer’s body.


Toxic PFAS chemicals may be in your eco-friendly takeout food containers

A recent report released by the New Food Economy, a non-profit newsroom that investigates food-related issues, reported the “cancer-linked” presence of PFAS, also called “forever chemicals,” in the fiber bowls used at fast casual dining spots and other restaurants including Chipotle, Sweetgreen, Dig Inn and other locations in New York City. (source)

pfas info graphic-michigan dept of environ quality


Why PFAS chemicals in food packaging are a potential problem


They may be toxic.  Think of PFAS as an “umbrella” term.  PFAS is not a single chemical, but an entire class of human-made chemicals that contain upwards of 5,000 chemicals.  Some of the chemicals that are a part of the PFAS family have been linked in scientific studies to a number of serious health problems including cancer, obesity, diabetes, endocrine (hormonal) based disruptions including reproductive problems, and immune system problems, to name a few.  So that is the first part of the problem.  Some of these chemicals have tested positive for toxicity to humans, animals and the environment.

They are known to migrate into food.  The second aspect of the problem is that the PFAS chemicals tested for toxicity to humans are present in some food containers and have been demonstrated to leach from the food containers into the food that humans ingest.

They are everywhere and will be around forever. The third part of the problem is that the family of carbon-fluorine PFAS chemicals (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) do not break down or dissipate for a very, very long time.  They have been dubbed “forever” chemicals for this reason.  They have been used by industry in a wide variety of home care products (including stain-resistant and water-resistant clothing and furniture, flooring, fire retardant furniture and clothing, nonstick cookware, and packaging–including food packaging), and personal care products since the 1940’s and at this point are ubiquitous in the environment–including in our water.

Please consider circling back to read our previous posts of scientific research findings surrounding PFAS chemicals:

Stop Exposing the Public to Unnecessary Toxic Chemicals: Scientists

Toxic Forever Chemical PFAS Leaching into Food, FDA Confirms

Big Chemical Sued (again) Over Toxic Food Packaging Chemicals

Kids Carry Toxic Chemicals in Their Bodies from Vinyl Flooring, Furniture

Toxic Forever-Chemical in Your Drinking Water: Status Update

Researchers Discover High Levels of Toxic Industrial Chemical in U.S. Drinking Water

Toxic Industrial Chemicals Pass to Fetus Throughout Pregnancy: Scientists

Toxic Chemical Discovered in Dental Floss

Life-Altering Toxic Chemicals: A Brief History

Safer Chemical on Non-Stick Cookware Actually Quite Dangerous, says EPA

Another Common Household Chemical Linked to Harming Cats

Increased weight gain linked with common chemicals

Chemicals of Concern in One-Third of Fast Food Packaging: New Study

ecofriendly compostable food containers

Being surrounded and inundated by toxic chemicals in our food, water, products and environment has been linked to the laundry list of serious health problems many Americans are already dealing with (or may eventually face).  For this reason, opting for food packaging billed as “safer” for humans, animals and the environment, only to find out that this packaging also contains PFAS chemicals and therefore may also be potentially toxic, is a problem.

What to do now?

In addition to myriad of potentially toxic chemicals currently under investigation, there are over 5,000 chemicals in the PFAS family alone. Only a few of these chemicals have been tested for toxicity so far and it is going to take quite a long time to test (and re-test and re-test again under a variety of conditions) all of these chemicals–and even longer for the government-based oversight agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be persuaded to take on Big Chemical, Big Food and the Food Packaging industries in the entangled and enmeshed corporate-funded political arena in order to begin the process of regulating and banning future use of these chemicals.

In the meantime, it comes down to consumer-beware and the very best recommendation is to minimize your (and your family’s) exposure to known toxic chemicals in your food, personal- and home care-products when and where possible.  In the case of PFAS chemicals leaching from the containers into the food you ingest, this means significantly minimizing processed foods (including restaurant foods) and the packaging that contains them.