Toxic PFAS chemicals in fast food packaging could end up in food
A recent study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters reported that it appears that the group of toxic PFAS chemicals that are licensed and used in fast food packaging could be released and end up in food and beverages
PFAS, commonly referred to as “forever chemicals,” are a series of 14,000-product toxicants that are commonly used to make thousands of consumer products water, stain, and heat-resistant.
These agents, which do not break down naturally, have been linked to diseases such as cancer, liver disease, kidney disease, autoimmune disorders, faecal complications, or a weakened immune system.
PFAS in Food Packaging Warning
This recent study focused on analyzing the subgroups of PFAS called perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl, which are used as protective layers in paper and cardboard packaging materials.
These subgroups had been heralded as a safe replacement for a first generation of PFAS compounds, which were largely removed from production in the United States, Canada, and the European Union (EU) due to their high toxicity.
In the paper, the researchers said that ‘the continued use of PFAS in food packaging should be questioned given the opportunities for release and exposure of the chemicals.’
Miriam Diamond, co-author of the study and a researcher at the University of Toronto said there is a suspicion that FTOH 6:2, which is regularly used in food packaging, and some similar compounds ‘are no longer added to food packaging’ directly, but the presence of these chemicals may be a byproduct of the use of another group of PFASs called fluoropolymers.’
As several companies have pointed out, fluoropolymers do not make it from meal packaging to food, as they are larger than most other PFASs. However, in its structure, it would contain FTOH 6:2, which, the researcher warned, ‘can be released after adding the chemical to food packaging.’
For this study, the researchers analyzed 42 containers from popular fast-food restaurants in Canada that serve hamburgers, burritos, salads, fries, doughnuts and other common foods. They found that there was a record of PFAS in about half of the samples.
They then stored eight of the contaminated products in a closed, dark area for two years. They found that there was a drop of up to 85% in PFAS levels, showing that these chemicals do separate from packaging.
“This chemical sticks at much higher rates when it comes into contact with foods or liquids that are acidic or served at high temperatures,” the researcher said.
Study finds PFAS in packaging
In 2020, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) entered into a ‘voluntary agreement’ with certain packaging manufacturers to phase out the use of 6:2 FTOH, a fluorotelomer commonly found in food packaging food, over the course of five years.
Industry officials have argued that fluoropolymers do not migrate from food packaging to food because they are larger than most other PFASs. However, study co-author Miriam Diamond explains that 6:2 FTOH can detach from the fluoropolymer after it is added to food packaging due to its large structure, creating a compliance gap.
To investigate further, the researchers stored eight of the PFAS-contaminated products in a dark, enclosed area for two years and found an 85% decrease in PFAS levels, demonstrating that PFAS leaches from the packaging of the food products over time.
The study’s findings could also help companies circumvent the Canadian government’s de minimis levels for PFAS.
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