Consumer Reports tested the packaging of over 100 food products from US restaurants and grocery stores and found PFAS chemicals in many of them. PFAS, called “forever chemicals,” are man-made chemical products that have been used worldwide since the 1950s, most commonly in non-stick cookware, stain-resistant carpeting, firefighting foams, and products that resist grease, such as fast food wrappers. During their production, PFAS can migrate into soil, water, and air. The majority of PFAS do not degrade, so they remain in the environment for extremely long periods of time. They are present in human and animal bodies around the world. Scientific studies have shown that exposure to some PFAS has negative health effects in organic bodies, but more research needs to be done to better understand what happens with repeated exposure. ”There is evidence from human and animal studies that PFAS exposure may reduce antibody responses to vaccines,” stated the CDC and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. “More research is needed to understand how PFAS exposure may affect illness from COVID-19.”

The tests conducted by Consumer Reports found ”The highest levels of indicators for PFAS were found in food packaging from Nathan’s Famous, Cava, Arby’s, Burger King, Chick-fil-A, Stop & Shop and Sweetgreen.” Cava, Chipotle, Fresh, McDonald’s, Panera Bread, Sweetgreen, Taco Bell and Wendy’s have committed to remove PFAS from food packaging, all by 2025, some much earlier. 

Alternatives to PFAS are being developed. One strategy is using wood, bamboo, palm leaves, or sugar waste and forcibly compressing their fibers to make them resistant to absorbing or leaking liquid. Sometimes the fibers cannot be made impermeable, so chemical barriers are used – ones that are PFAS-free, such as wax, clay, or silicone. A company in California called Zume makes fibers-based food packaging meant to replace single-use plastic items. Earlier this year, they introduced PFASo-free plates and bowls that rely on a bio-based was that has been approved by the FDA to be used with food.