Dangerous chemicals found in fast-food wrappers

PFAS was found in bowls, bags, plates, and wrappers, even from companies that say they’ve phased them out.
Published: Apr. 25, 2022 at 4:00 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - Think about that takeout food order you made recently — almost all of it probably came wrapped or boxed. It’s what is in some of that packaging that’s raising concern. A new investigation from Consumer Reports finds potentially dangerous chemicals in many commonly used food wrappers.

Over 100 food packaging products were tested for so-called forever chemicals — or PFAS — from popular retailers. The investigation found PFAS in many types of packaging, from fast-food restaurants and grocery stores. It was even found in packaging from places that say they’re moving away from the dangerous chemicals.

PFAS is known as “forever chemicals” because, in general, they don’t break down in landfills. Exposure has been linked to serious health problems such as increased risk for some cancers, lowered immunity, and liver damage.

This practically unbreakable compound, created when the elements carbon and fluorine are fused, is added to a wide variety of products to make them resistant to heat, water, oil, and corrosion.

So, if PFAS is in food packaging, is it also in the food? “PFAS can migrate from packaging into food you eat, like that burger wrapped in paper that contains PFAS, or that salad in a molded fiber bowl,” Consumer Reports Health Editor Kevin Loria explained.

Paper bags, molded fiber bowls, and single-use plates had the highest PFAS levels on average from all the food packaging tested. While takeout containers and paper trays had some of the lowest.

Paper bags, molded fiber bowls, and single-use plates had the highest PFAS levels on average...
Paper bags, molded fiber bowls, and single-use plates had the highest PFAS levels on average in a scientific study.(Consumer Reports)

Research even suggests that people who eat out regularly may indeed have higher PFAS levels in their blood.

In response to CR, some companies stressed that with PFAS so common in the environment, it’s nearly impossible to eliminate them entirely. Several companies are also in the process of redoing their packaging to phase out PFAS. Still, more than half of the products tested had low PFAS levels, so it’s clearly possible for companies to reach lower levels.

In the meantime, Consumer Reports recommends you transfer your takeout food out of its packaging when you can, and DON’T reheat your food in its packaging. It also helps to look for retailers that have pledged to reduce PFAS. While this study found their levels were not at zero, they tended to be lower than elsewhere.

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