Toxic-Free Future urges Congress to act soon to ban PFAS in food packaging and for retailers to commit to ending use

SEATTLE, WA—A new investigation released today by Consumer Reports found toxic “forever chemicals” appear to be widespread in packaging they tested from chain restaurants and grocery stores. According to Consumer Reports PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ were found in bowls, bags, plates, and wrappers.”

Toxic-Free Future (TFF) released a similar study in 2020 that tested food packaging from major fast-food chains, finding fluorine at levels above the screening level—suggesting toxic PFAS treatment including in the packaging of Burger King’s Whopper. A 2018 report by TFF also indicated the presence of PFAS in food packaging at top grocery store chains.

Today, Restaurant Brands International (RBI) announced that it will ban PFAS in food packaging globally by 2025. RBI—which owns Burger King, Popeyes, and Tim Hortons—is one of the world’s largest quick service restaurant companies with 27,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries. Their actions follow a multi-year campaign to phase out PFAS from retail food packaging, led by Toxic-Free Future. RBI’s announcement comes nearly one year after restaurant competitors made similar commitments, including McDonald’s and Wendy’s, following Toxic-Free Future’s 2018 and 2020 reports testing food packaging materials, including wrappers from Burger King. For additional background on RBI’s new commitment, read Toxic-Free Future’s press statement.

Toxic-Free Future urges Congress to act soon on legislation to ban PFAS in food packaging through the bipartisan Keep Food Containers Safe from PFAS Act which was introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives in November 2021. Toxic-Free Future has also been campaigning to press retailers like Burger King to ban PFAS.

A 2021 peer-reviewed study by Toxic-Free Future of breast milk from 50 new moms in Washington state found PFAS in 100% of the samples. Detections in breast milk of certain PFAS used in food packaging are doubling every 4 years.

In response to Consumer Report’s study published today, Toxic-Free Future released the following statements:

 “PFAS chemicals have contaminated drinking water for most Americans, with taxpayers stuck with the bill for cleanup. Congress should act quickly to end the completely unnecessary uses of these dangerous pollutants in food packaging,” said Liz Hitchcock, director of Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, a program of Toxic-Free Future. “The Consumer Reports investigation shows that much of our food is still served with a side of forever chemicals.  Congress should pass this common sense legislation and take PFAS off the menu.”

“Fast-food giants like Burger King, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Taco Bell are already banning PFAS, so the marketplace is moving,” said Mike Schade, campaign director of Mind the Store, a program of Toxic-Free Future. “The federal government must level the playing field to ensure all Americans are protected from these forever chemicals.” 

“As Chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), Senator Murray (D-WA) has the opportunity to protect moms and their babies by moving forward a ban on PFAS in food packaging once and for all,” said Laurie Valeriano, executive director of Toxic-Free Future. “Washington was the first state to enact a ban on PFAS in food packaging. It is even more urgent now to reverse the trend of PFAS building up in breast milk and for Senator Murray to provide the nation the same protections as our home state has,” concluded Valeriano.

ABOUT TFF’S CAMPAIGN TO PHASE OUT PFAS IN RETAIL FOOD PACKAGING

Since 2018, Toxic Free Future’s Mind the Store program and its partners from across the country have been working to drive the nation’s largest grocery, fast-food, and fast-casual chains to ban PFAS in food packaging.

The campaign launched with more than 75 letters requesting action to address toxic PFAS sent to the top grocery and fast-food chains in North America, followed by product testing investigations at grocery store chains in 2018 and 2019. In the summer of 2020, the campaign released a follow-up study, Packaged in Pollution, finding nearly half of all food packaging samples tested positive for fluorine above the screening level indicating the likely presence of PFAS, including in the packaging of McDonald’s Big Mac and Burger King’s Whopper.

The campaign also launched online petitions signed by tens of thousands of consumers; published report cards analyzing retailer chemical policies; hosted actions at fast-food chains nationwide; published factsheets on alternatives and guidance for implementing restrictions on PFAS; engaged investors; co-authored a peer-reviewed study led by scientists at Toxic-Free Future, the University of Washington, and Indiana University finding PFAS in breast milk and an original investigative report tracing the toxic path of PFAS; and released a new campaign mascot, Polluted Polly, to inspire actions that break the toxic lifecycle of PFAS.

In response to the campaign, 21 retailers selling food or food packaging announced steps to reduce or eliminate PFAS in food packaging at more than 100,000 stores, which includes Ahold Delhaize, Albertsons, Amazon.com, Burger King, Cava, Chipotle, Freshii, McDonald’s, Panera Bread, Popeyes, Sweetgreen, Tim Hortons, Trader Joe’s, Wendy’s, and Whole Foods Market.

PFAS BACKGROUND

Chemical companies sell PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) for application to paper and textiles as stain-resistant, water-repellent, and grease-proofing treatments.

A growing body of scientific research has found links between exposures to PFAS and a wide range of health problems including a weaker immune system, cancer, increased cholesterol levels, pregnancy-induced hypertension, liver damage, reduced fertility, and increased risk of thyroid disease. PFAS are often referred to as “forever” chemicals because they are not known to break down in the environment and can easily move through soil to drinking water. With remarkable persistence and mobility, PFAS have become global pollutants that threaten the health of people and wildlife.

A recent peer-reviewed study led by scientists at Toxic-Free Future, the University of Washington, and Indiana University found PFAS in 100% of breast milk samples tested and that newer PFAS build up in people. And, Toxic-Free Future’s latest investigative report revealed that a PFAS manufacturing facility is a major source of both PFAS pollution and ozone-depleting chemicals that contribute to health problems and climate change. And, earlier this year, TFF released a study that found PFAS in most products labeled stain- and water-resistant.

In November 2021, 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).  The legislation will ban the use of any perfluoroalkyl or polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) as a food contact substance.

State governments are taking legislative and regulatory actions to phase out PFAS in products to prevent contamination in favor of safer alternatives. For example, laws in ME and WA have given state agencies authority to ban PFAS in a wide range of products. CA, CT, ME, MN, NY, VT, and WA have enacted phase-outs of PFAS in food packaging. VT and ME adopted bans on PFAS in carpets, rugs, and aftermarket treatments and regulatory action is pending on these products and other home textiles (e.g. upholstery, bedding) in CA and WA. CA, CO, CT, IL, ME, NH, NY, and WA have put in place bans on the sale of firefighting foam containing PFAS.

TOXIC-FREE FUTURE

Toxic-Free Future (TFF) is a nonprofit research and advocacy organization that advances the use of safer products, chemicals, and practices through science, organizing, advocacy, and consumer engagement to ensure a healthier tomorrow. Safer Chemicals Healthy Families is a Toxic-Free Future program dedicated to achieving strong federal policies that protect the public from toxic chemicals. Mind the Store is a Toxic-Free Future program that challenges retailers to eliminate toxic chemicals and replace them with safer alternatives and scores major retailers on their safer chemicals policies in an annual Retailer Report Card.

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MEDIA CONTACT

Stephanie Stohler
Communications Director
sstohler@toxicfreefuture.org