The  U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered an end to dangerous PFAS chemicals used in food packaging, banning the sale of such substances for that usage indefinitely.

Following the lead of 12 states that have introduced extensive bans and phase-outs, the FDA announced its decision to curb the use of PFAS in food packaging nationwide. Food manufacturers commonly use the substances to make paper and paperboard packaging grease-proof, oil resistant and waterproof. 

The FDA says that PFAS-containing materials are currently used in a range of packaging products, including wrappers for fast food, microwave popcorn bags, takeout containers, pet food bags and other similar packaging. 

How Long Have PFAS in Foods Been a Known Safety Risk?

According to David Andrews, Ph.D., a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, scientists have known for decades about PFAS in food materials.

“It is amazing how long PFAS manufacturers have continued to profit from wrapping food with these toxic chemicals while knowing about the harm caused by exposure to these chemicals,” Andrews said.

“Twenty years ago, EWG sent letters to the CEOs of nine fast-food restaurants asking them to phase out this use of PFAS. We’ve known for decades that this is a completely unnecessary use of these forever chemicals,” he added.

The states that engaged in phase-outs of PFAS in food packaging before the FDA announcement include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, according to the EWG.

The FDA’s efforts to stop the use of PFAS in food packaging began in 2020 when it asked companies to stop the sales.

“[This] announcement marks the fulfillment of a voluntary commitment by manufacturers to not sell food contact substances containing certain PFAS intended for use as grease-proofing agents in the U.S.,” Deputy Commissioner for Human Foods Jim Jones wrote in a statement. 

“This FDA-led effort represents a positive step forward as we continue to reevaluate chemicals authorized for use with, and in, food. It underscores an important milestone in the protection of U.S. consumers from potentially harmful food-contact chemicals,” Jones said.

Health Risks Related to PFAS Exposure

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as forever chemicals because of their persistence in the environment and ability to accumulate in humans and animals, have come under scrutiny in recent years. Health problems linked to PFAS include cancer, reproductive issues and low birth weight.

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, people can be exposed to these man-made chemicals in a variety of ways, including:

  • Breathing or swallowing contaminated soil or dust.
  • Drinking contaminated water.
  • Eating contaminated fish.
  • Eating food — including meat, dairy and vegetables — that is contaminated.
  • Eating food that is packaged in PFAS-coated materials.

Nearly all people in the U.S. have had exposure to PFAS, including newborn babies. A 2023 study by the U.S. Geological Survey found that nearly all household tap water in America is polluted with PFAS. Most of the exposure was in urban areas and near where PFAS are made.

People who were exposed to PFAS and later diagnosed with a serious illness, including cancer, thyroid issues or kidney damage because of the exposure, have filed PFAS lawsuits. Lawyers are still taking cases.

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