Pixel-Shot via Shutterstock.com

To protect consumers from exposure to toxic chemicals, companies should commit to phasing out food packaging that contains PFAS and opting for safer alternatives.

PFAS are a type of toxic chemical used in many of the products we come into contact with every day, including food packaging. That’s a problem because PFAS chemicals can leach out of packaging, into the food, and then into our bodies. Research has linked PFAS to serious health risks, including liver damage, birth defects and cancer. To make matters worse, PFAS have been given the nickname “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in our bodies or in the environment. So the more they get used, the more they build up and the bigger risk they pose to our health.

  • <h4>A widespread issue</h4><p>PFAS can be found in many types of food packaging, including microwave popcorn bags, some fast food wrappers and many compostable containers.</p><em>Pixel-Shot via Shutterstock.com</em>
  • <h4>Serious health risks</h4><p>Some types of PFAS have been linked to serious health effects, including cancer, liver damage and birth defects.</p><em>S_L via Shutterstock.com</em>
  • <h4>Babies born with PFAS</h4><p>Pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers can pass PFAS chemicals to their babies through the placenta and breast milk, which can harm development in utero and long term.</p><em>funnyangel via Shutterstock.com</em>
  • <h4>Building up in our bodies</h4><p>Studies have estimated that 97 to 99 percent of Americans have PFAS in our bodies.</p><em>Monkey Business Images via Shutterstock.com</em>
  • <h4>Restaurants taking action</h4><p>In 2020, health-oriented restaurant chains Sweetgreen, Freshii and CAVA all committed to phasing out PFAS-treated food packaging in their restaurants. In January 2021, McDonald's committed to phasing out PFAS-treated food packaging in all its restaurants globally by 2025.</p>
  • <h4>States taking action</h4><p>Washington, New York and Maine have all taken action to address PFAS in food packaging sold and used in those states. And many other states have introduced bills that would address the issue.</p>
Toxic chemicals in our food packaging

PFAS is a class of thousands of chemicals that are used in many of the products we come into contact with every day. A recent study found PFAS chemicals in take-out food packaging from six popular restaurant chains, and PFAS have also been found in microwave popcorn bags, and other food containers designed to resist grease and water.

Some types of PFAS have been linked to serious health effects, including cancer, liver damage and birth defects. At particular risk are pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers who can pass the chemicals to their babies through the placenta and breast milk, which can harm development in utero and potentially do long term harm. Because PFAS don’t break down it's possible for them to build up in our bodies and environment over time, increasing the chance of exposure and the risks to our health.

Given how long they last and what we know about their harmful effects, we should stop using PFAS, especially in food containers and wrappers.

Our approach

To protect consumers from exposure to toxic PFAS in food packaging, we're doing two things:

First, we're connecting individuals with resources that will help them avoid PFAS-treated food packaging in their lives.

Second, we're calling on restaurants and institutions that use PFAS-treated food packaging to commit to phasing out food packaging that contains PFAS and opting for safer alternatives. 

And the good news is that making the shift is possible, as there are existing alternatives to PFAS-treated food packaging. Not all “conventional” food packaging currently in use contains PFAS, and we know there are also more environmentally friendly options that do not contain PFAS.

Every day that we continue to use PFAS in our food packaging and other products, we're increasing our risk of exposure to these dangerous chemicals. We need to take action now to eliminate them from our products and stem the flow of toxic forever chemicals into our environment and our bodies.

Protecting you from toxic chemicals

Over the past 50 years, PIRGIM Education Fund and our national network have been leaders in protecting public health from exposure to toxic chemicals in our communities. We’ve convinced major personal care product companies such as Unilever and Procter & Gamble to commit to disclosing all the ingredients in their products and phasing out priority chemicals of concern. Our work has also led to more than 150 recalls and other enforcement actions of dangerous products. And in 2019, we convinced children and teens retailer Claire's to stop selling three products that we found were contaminated with cancer-causing asbestos.

PFAS-free food packaging

Eliminating PFAS in food packaging will help protect us from exposure to PFAS, reducing our risk of cancer and other serious diseases. It will also strengthen our efforts to eliminate PFAS in products throughout our economy and move toward our vision of a future free of toxic PFAS chemicals.