Environmental Advocacy groups including Toxic-Free Future and Mind the Store have published a report in which they claim that the wrappers of famous fast food burgers or fiber containers containing veggies or salads are coated with toxic chemicals called PFAS. Research has indicated that PFAS is associated with immune disorders, cancer, liver damage, and endocrine disruption.
What is PFAS? PFAS chemicals are made up of fluorine atom linked with a chain of carbon atoms and they do not degrade in the environment. Two of the most common PFAS made of 8-carbon chain, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) were banned for use on consumer products in the United States at the start of 21st century, but the industry has spawned nearly 4700 types of PFAS after that and the number keeps on increasing.
The testing in the study by the groups showed that man-made PFAS substances including polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl chemicals were found in Wendy’s paper bags, McDonald’s wrappers for cookies and French fries, and packaging of Burger king’s cookies and chicken nuggets. Mind the Store campaign director Mike Schade said that McDonald is the largest food chain in the world and so has a responsibility to keep its customers safe. He further said that he is not ‘lovin it’ as these dangerous chemicals don’t belong in food packaging.
In addition, the molded fiber bowls and containers which are deemed as environmentally friendly, sold by the Canadian restaurant franchise Freshii, fast-casual salad chain Sweetgreen, and the Mediterranean culinary chain Cava tested extremely high for PFAS, according to the report. Moreover, of many packaging tested the paper-fiber containers showed the highest levels of PFAS.
In response to these findings, Cava announced that by mid-2021 the PFAS will be removed from its food packaging. Freshii told in an interview that it has begun it’s transitioning into bowls which are PFAS free and will hopefully achieve it by early 2021. Sweetgreen announced that by the end of the year the chemicals would be eliminated. McDonalds released a statement saying that they have eliminated significant classes of PFAS from its packaging across the globe. They accepted that there is progress to be made and they are exploring opportunities with their supply partners to go further.
All the wrappings tested in the study did not contain these toxic chemicals such as clamshells or paperboard cartons for French fries, fried chicken pieces and potato tots sold at three burger chains and all of them contained chemicals below screening level, according to the report. Linda Birnbaum, a microbiologist and former director of the National Toxicology Program (NTP) and the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), said that this is a very clear demonstration that the chemicals present in food packaging are not needed to be present. She further added that the packaging can be made with a material that doesn’t require these chemicals.
This is not the first study to find these toxic chemicals in food packaging as in a 2017 study which examined 400 food wrappers, beverage containers, and paperboard containers from restaurants around the US. Paper cups contained no contamination, however, 56% of dessert and bread wrappers, 20% of paperboard wrappers, and 38% of sandwich and burger wrappers contained detectable levels of PFAS chemicals. More than 33% of the samples contained toxic chemicals at far above levels than what is acceptable. Similarly, a study in late 2018 found PFAS chemicals in nearly two-thirds of paper takeout containers used to self-serve hot bars and salad buffets.