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 are toxic.   PFAS chemicals (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are toxic to humans, animals and the environment. They are comprised of approximately 12,000 compounds. PFAS chemicals are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not readily break down in the environment or human body.  PFAS chemicals have been linked in scientific and medical studies to a variety of serious health conditions including cancer (including testicular cancers), kidney disease, heart disease, thyroid problems, reproductive problems, endocrine problems (PFAS has been found to disrupt hormonal functions with some research suggesting that the PFAS chemicals are linked to accelerated ovarian aging, period irregularities and ovarian disorders like polycystic ovarian syndrome) and liver problems. Some newer PFAS have been found to accumulate in organs, so in some cases, science simply cannot detect the toxic chemicals when testing for it in blood.

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 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 are ubiquitous in the U.S., appearing in thousands of consumer and industrial products and are typically used to make products resist water, stains and heat, including household products (like carpeting, curtains, furniture upholstery, waterproof and stain-resistant flooring, etc.), cooking supplies (including cooking utensils and bake ware), clothing, personal care products (like cosmetics, including waterproof mascara) and even food (PFAS appears in processed food packaging for humans and pets) and public drinking water (tap water) that affects an estimated 2 million Americans. PFAS chemicals are usually found in products labeled “stain-proof” and “waterproof”.  PFAS chemicals also appear in fire-fighting foam and other industrial products used at airports and military bases across the country, where the chemicals have leached into the groundwater.

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 12,000 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.