– OPINION –
By Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at Consumer Reports, and Liz Hitchcock, director at Safer Chemicals Healthy Families
The next time you order takeout from a favorite restaurant, chances are it will include a side order of toxic chemicals forever. Indeed, many popular restaurant chains package their food in packaging made with PFAS, a dangerous class of chemicals that has been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers, lower birth weight and suppressed system. immune.
PFAS are sometimes called “eternal chemicals” because they resist natural breakdown in the environment and can stay in people’s bodies for years. In fact, a recent peer-reviewed study conducted by Toxic Free Future and the University of Washington found PFAS in every breast milk sample from fifty Seattle-area mothers.
Unfortunately, PFAS from food packaging contaminates the water in the communities where it is produced, can leach into the food we eat, and pollute soil and water when the packaging is disposed of in landfill. Although the packaging can be used once, the chemicals can last forever in the environment and enter our bodies.
Over the past several years, Toxic-Free Future has conducted several studies on PFAS in food packaging and has led a campaign to convince restaurant and grocery store chains to stop using packaging made with PFAS that have obtained commitments of more than twenty companies to phase out their use.
But we cannot rely solely on voluntary measures when it comes to protecting public health. It’s time for Congress to act by passing the Keep Food Containers Safe From PFAS Act, which would ban the intentional use of PFAS in food packaging.
Efforts to ban PFAS in food packaging have gained momentum following a new Consumer Reports survey who found measurable levels of PFAS in more than half of food packaging tested, including packaging from fast-food chains like McDonald’s, Burger King, Chick-fil-A and Arby’s. Even retailers promoting healthier foods, such as Trader Joe’s, Cava and Sweetgreen, had food packaging containing troubling levels of PFAS.
Of the 118 products tested by Consumer Reports, almost a third (37) had PFAS levels above 20 parts per million (ppm), a limit set by Denmark to protect public health, while 22 products had levels exceeding 100 ppm, which would be prohibited under a new California law set to take effect in 2023. Nathan’s Famous had the products with the two highest average readings – 876 ppm and 618 ppm for the paper bags used for the sides. Other food packaging with particularly high levels include cookie bags from Burger King (345.7 ppm), cookie bags from Arby’s (457.5 ppm) and a sandwich wrap from Chick-fil-A (553.5ppm).
This follows three separate studies published by Toxic-Free Future in 2018, 2019 and 2020 which found indications of PFAS in the packaging of McDonald’s Big Mac, Burger King’s Whopper and in take-out containers at Whole Foods Market and Sweetgreen. .
The good news is that businesses and state governments are taking action. Since the publication of the Consumer Reports study, Nathan’s Famous and Chick-fil-A have publicly expressed their commitment to phasing out the use of PFAS in their food packaging. Additionally, after years of campaigning for Toxic-Free Future, the company that owns Burger King, Tim Hortons and Popeyes has announced plans to phase out PFAS in its food packaging at its 27,000 locations in more than 100 countries around the world. ‘by 2025. They join twenty other major retailers, including McDonald’s, Starbucks, Taco Bell, Whole Foods and Wendy’s, who have also set deadlines to phase out PFAS in food packaging.
So far, seven states have enacted laws banning the intentional use of PFAS in food packaging, including California, Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, New York, Vermont and Washington. Legislation is also pending in a number of other states.
The danger posed by PFAS has been known for over 70 years. Although described as “eternal chemicals”, they are also called “pervasive chemicals” because they are used in hundreds of products to make them resistant to heat, water, oil and corrosion.
Despite the well-known dangers of PFAS, there has not been enough effort to limit its use. It’s time for Congress to do what it can to eliminate PFAS from consumer products. Passing the Keep Food Containers Safe from PFAS Act would be a significant step forward.
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