Bill to ban ‘forever chemicals’ from food packaging would eliminate major source of exposure

WASHINGTON – A bill introduced today in Congress would ban the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS from food packaging, an avoidable source of exposure to the harmful substances.

The bipartisan Keep Food Containers Safe from PFAS Act was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and in the House of Representatives by Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Don Young (R-Alaska).

If passed, it would ban the sale of grease-repellant PFAS on any food wrappers or packaging, beginning Jan. 1, 2024.

“Food is likely a significant source of exposure to these dangerous chemicals for millions of Americans,” said EWG senior scientist David Andrews, Ph.D. “PFAS in the environment can contaminate crops and accumulate in fish and meat, but they also leach into food from food packaging.

“The Keep Food Containers Safe from PFAS Act would quickly cut off a potential major and completely avoidable source of exposure to these forever chemicals,” Andrews added.

In 2014 and 2015, Andrews was among a team of scientists who collected and tested for PFAS on more than 300 samples of sandwich and pastry wrappers, french fry bags, pizza boxes, and other paper and paperboard from fast food chains and local restaurants from across the U.S.

Of the samples, 40 percent tested positive for fluorine, a likely indicator of PFAS.

When people eat food from PFAS-coated wrappers, they may be putting these toxic chemicals directly into their bodies. The heat and grease from foods like french fries can make it more likely PFAS will be transferred from the wrapper to the food people consume.

Some PFAS have been linked to cancer, developmental issues, reproductive harm, compromised immune systems and other health problems, along with reduced vaccine effectiveness.

Although some PFAS, such as those formerly used to make Dupont’s Teflon and 3M’s Scotchgard, have been phased out, chemical companies have flooded the market with a new generation of fluorinated compounds that have not been adequately tested for safety.

The Food and Drug Administration announced a phase-out of some PFAS in food packaging in July 2020, after its research showed the substances were more toxic than manufacturers had disclosed. EWG and 10 other nonprofit organizations, led by the Environmental Defense Fund, filed a petition in June asking the FDA to ban all PFAS from food packaging.

PFAS-free paper is readily available, as shown by the fact that more than half the food wrapper samples tested in 2014 and 2015 had no detected fluorine.

Several U.S. grocery stores and fast food restaurants, including Panera Bread, Chipotle, McDonald’s and Wendy’s, have committed to ban PFAS from consumer food packaging.

Seven states – California, Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, New York, Vermont and Washington  – have passed laws taking effect soon that ban PFAS in food packaging.

But the only way to ensure food packaging across the country does not contain PFAS is a national prohibition, as outlined in the Keep Food Containers Safe from PFAS Act.

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The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.

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