Toxic chemicals in U.S. food packaging have been an ongoing problem for many years now*, primarily because scientific studies have demonstrated that these toxins can migrate into the food you eat. Because of their ability to repel grease and stains, PFAS chemicals (nicknamed “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment or human/animal bodies) are commonly found in food packaging for processed foods, fast foods, bakery take-out, deli take-out foods and conventional restaurant take-out food packaging.
This is no small matter: To date, PFAS chemicals (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) have been linked with cancer, liver problems, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, endocrine (hormonal) based disruptions (including reproductive problems and miscarriages), and immune system problems, to name a few.
Are you eating toxic PFAS?
Consumer Reports tested 118 different products ranging from salad bowls to burger wrappers from restaurant and grocery chains. Researchers found PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ in bowls, bags, plates, and wrappers, even from some companies that claim they have phased them out. PFAS chemicals were in at least some packaging from every retailer tested**. Scientists found the highest levels of PFAS in molded fiber bowls that are often associated with healthier food options***. Researchers noted that even recycled paper products can potentially be contaminated with PFAS in the ink for printing, or lubrication in the machines manufacturing products.
What can you do?
It is impossible to completely avoid PFAS chemicals (they are ubiquitous in our products, food, water and general environment), but you can minimize your exposure (and therefore accumulation in your body) by taking precautions and making good choices. Experts advise:
-LIMIT / MINIMIZE EATING TAKE-OUT FOOD (INCLUDING FROM DELI AND BAKERY SECTIONS), FAST FOOD, ULTRA-PROCESSED FOOD
-DO NOT ASSUME “HEALTH FOOD” FROM THE DELI OFFERS PFAS-FREE FOOD CONTAINERS
-TRANSFER FOOD FROM TAKE-OUT CONTAINERS TO GLASS PLATES AND BOWLS AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE
-DO NOT HEAT/RE-HEAT FOOD IN THE ORIGINAL PACKAGING OR TAKE-OUT PACKAGING!
-LIMIT THE USE OF OTHER PRODUCTS LIKE COSMETICS (Be sure they state they are PFAS-Free), WATER-REPELLENT CLOTHING AND FURNITURE AND STAIN-RESISTANT CARPETING
*See our other posts:
**There are more than 9,000 known PFAS, yet common testing methods can identify only a couple dozen of these chemicals.
One of the PFAS chemicals researchers found at the highest concentrations is a compound called PFBA, which may accumulate in the lungs and has been linked to more severe cases of COVID-19.
In addition, the testing detected two PFAS compounds that, because of their known risks, are no longer manufactured in the U.S. One of them, PFOA, was the most frequently detected compound, and the other, PFOS, was the fifth most common.
***Researchers tested for PFAS at retailers that claimed to be phasing out PFAS, including Cava, Chipotle, Panera Bread, Sweetgreen, and Whole Foods Market. All 13 of the products the companies said had reduced PFAS still had some detectable organic fluorine (the measure used to detect the presence of PFAS chemicals), and seven were above 20 ppm. They ranged from a Whole Foods soup container with 21 ppm organic fluorine—the only Whole Foods item to top the 20-ppm limit—to a paper bag for pita chips from Cava with 260 ppm.