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No More Food Packaging with “Forever Chemicals” to Be Sold, FDA Says

February 29, 2024

Fast-food wrappers and packaging like pizza boxes that contain “forever chemicals” will no longer be sold in the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration announced this week. 

These forever chemicals, also known as PFAS (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances), have been linked to a variety of health issues, including changes in immune and liver function, obesity, diabetes, certain cancers, and lower birth weights.

The decision from the FDA comes after a large voluntary effort by U.S. food manufacturers to phase out the packaging made with PFAS, which does not degrade and can harm human health.

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In 2020, the FDA obtained commitments from U.S. food manufacturers to begin phasing out PFAS in wrappers, boxes, and bags. The coating made with PFAS prevents grease, water, and other liquids from soaking through. 

The agency added that many fast-food companies and other manufacturers, such as McDonald’s, stopped using wrappers containing PFAS before the original phase-out date.

Jim Jones, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for human foods, said in a written statement that having no more packages that contain PFAS is a “win for public health.”

“The major source of dietary exposure to PFAS, from food packaging like fast-food wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, take-out paperboard containers, and pet food bags, is being eliminated,” Jones said.

Observational research suggests that PFAS exposure is associated with a myriad of health issues, including menstrual cycle irregularities, earlier age of menopause, type 2 diabetes, adverse birth outcomes, hypertension, liver dysfunction, and testicular and kidney cancer,” registered dietitian Edwina Clark tells Clean Plates.

“PFAS appear to impact a variety of organs, and given the plethora of observational studies indicating their damaging effects, it makes sense to remove them from our food system and industrial processes,” she adds.

While the announcement is a step in the right direction, this doesn’t mean that PFAS will disappear immediately. The FDA estimates that it could take another 18 months after this phase-out to exhaust stocks of products containing these food contact substances.

In the meantime, Clark suggests a few ways people can stay vigilant. 

First, ask your water provider about the PFAS content of your tap water, and consider a water filter. Clark also suggests swapping out non-stick cookware for cast iron, stainless steel, or ceramic pots and pans, and avoiding packaged microwave popcorn.

“Pop kernels on the stove instead,” she notes, adding that it’s also a good idea to minimize fast food and takeout to limit exposure to grease-proof wrappers and containers.

Read next: What Are “Natural Flavors,” and Are They Actually Natural?

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