In a press release published on August 6, 2020, non-governmental organization Safer Chemicals Healthy Families announced the release of a report investigating the presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) present in take-out food packaging from popular restaurant chains in the US. Carried out by the Mind the Store campaign and Toxic-Free Future, the study collected a total of 29 unique food packaging items from six fast food chains across three US states and a total of sixteen locations. An independent laboratory then measured the samples for total fluorine content, and packaging above a limit of 100 parts per million (ppm) was identified as likely having been treated with PFAS. Six of the seven burger wrappers tested were found not to contain high fluorine levels, with the exception of a wrapper used on Burger King’s flagship Whopper burger. The paperboard container used for McDonald’s Big Mac burger was also identified to contain PFAS. The paper bags used for fried foods (such as French fries) and desserts were found to consistently contain high fluorine levels, including products purchased at McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s.
The study also investigated a set of more health-conscious fast food chains and found some of their packaging as well to have been treated with PFAS. In response to the study, the restaurant chain Canva announced that it will eliminate PFAS from their food packaging by mid-2021 and “publicly share progress on [their] commitment in the year ahead.”
“Whether the chains are serving burgers, fries, or salad, they owe it to their customers to serve it up in safe packaging,” commented Erika Schreder, a co-author of the study. “We found many instances of packaging that’s PFAS-free—there’s no reason for these chains to choose any food packaging that contains PFAS. Food chains like McDonald’s shouldn’t be using this toxic packaging.”
PFAS are used in food packaging for their stain, grease, and water repelling properties. However, there is growing concern about the long-term persistence of this synthetic class of chemicals and research showing that some of those investigated are toxic and taken up by humans via their diets. Denmark has banned PFAS use is paper-based food packaging (FPF reported), and the US state of New York is in the process of doing the same (FPF reported).
Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (August 6, 2020). “Packaged in Pollution: Are food chains using PFAS in packaging?”
Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (August 6, 2020). “New study indicates toxic chemicals used in take-out food packaging from popular food chains.”
Sandee LaMotte (August 6, 2020). “Toxic chemicals may be in fast food wrappers and take-out containers, report says.” CNN
Kelly Franklin (August 6, 2020). “More North American restaurant chains pledge to phase down PFASs in food packaging.” Chemical Watch