PFAS found in food wrappers of fast-food restaurants and grocery chains

A recent investigation by Consumer Reports found alarming levels of PFAS in food packaging of well-known fast-food restaurants and grocery store chains. 118 food packaging products from 24 companies have been collected and tested for organic fluorine, a marker for PFAS.  

Samples with high levels of PFAS were sent to an independent laboratory to perform specific tests and PFAS.  

The Consumer Reports investigation found the highest indicators for PFAS, 876 ppm and 618 ppm, in two types of bags for sides.  

High indicators of PFAS (in the range 500-200 ppm) were also found in sandwich wrappers, fiber bowls, bags of cookies, bamboo paper plates, and bags. However, there were also food packages that tested at levels below 200 ppm. Four companies also sold food in packaging that had no detectable levels of PFAS, the report said.  

The regulatory limits for PFAS in food packaging vary greatly. At present, there are no federal limits set by the US. According to Consumer Reports, States such as Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington have passed bills banning the intentional use of PFAS in food packaging but have not specified a limit. In January 2023, a new law in California will set the limit at less than 100 ppm. A much more conservative limit can be found in Denmark, where the regulatory limit is set at 20 ppm. There, a decrease in both noncompliance by industry and levels of PFAS in packaging products have been observed over the past 10 years.  

According to the Consumer Reports investigation, the most common chemical found in the food packaging tested was PFOA.    

In the late ‘90s, the public began to become aware of the health impacts of these chemicals, and manufacturers started to voluntarily phase out the use of PFOS and PFOA. However, as PFOS and PFOA are phased out, they are also replaced by other PFAS which, according to a 2016 study, appear to be absorbed by food more readily than the older versions.