Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals used in various industries and are found in food packaging. They are often referred to as "forever chemicals" because they do not break down in the environment or the human body, persisting for a long time. PFAS are linked to various health problems, and there is growing concern about their impact on human health and the environment.
Food packaging displayed

How Are People Exposed To PFAS?

You can be exposed to PFAS through food, water, and everyday products. PFAS can pollute drinking water and enter the food supply through soil and water. Workers who make or process products containing PFAS inhale and retain the chemical in their skin. People may also be exposed to PFAS by making contact with products that contain them.

Common Everyday Items With PFAS

Many items should be avoided when wanting to reduce exposure to PFAS, such as non-stick cookware. Below are more common items with PFAS:

  1. Household items - makeup, floss, paints, waxes, stains, sunscreen, shampoo, and shaving cream
  2. Stain-resistant fabrics - carpets, rugs, and furniture
  3. Outdoor gear - water-resistant clothing

How Does The Foodservice Industry Expose Customers To PFAS?

There are a number of foodservice establishments around the world that use products with PFAS. That is because forever chemicals allow greasy foods to maintain their shape in baking cups or prevent dishes from sticking to food liners. These substances can be found in a variety of products, such as:

  • Take out containers
  • Food liners
  • Disposable tableware
  • Baking supplies and bakeware
  • Pots, pans, and other cookware

When any food or beverage makes contact with products that have forever chemicals, they become contaminated. Patrons are exposed to PFAS once they take a sip of lemonade or bite a sandwich that was prepared or packaged with products made with these substances. That is why studies show that 95 percent of the U.S. population has been exposed to PFAS and has measurable concentrations in their blood, according to the National Ground Water Association.

Do Eco-Friendly Products Contain PFAS?

Eco-friendly products can contain PFAS. The forever chemicals are simply everywhere and do not escape biodegradable or compostable food containers. Sustainable packaging containing these chemicals can contaminate soil and water when disposed of. People are unaware that biodegradable products can easily contain PFAS and ruin their compost. It is vital to research the products you are purchasing and learn whether they are eliminating toxic chemicals from their product lines.

How Can Business Owners Keep Their Establishments Free Of PFAS?

Many business owners find it difficult to keep their establishment free of items that possess PFAS. This is because they use a variety of products to package or prepare meals with forever chemicals and aren't sure how to properly get rid of these items.

When looking to free your business from PFAS, it's important to find out which products are treated with forever chemicals. If you're not sure if an item was made with PFAS, simply ask your suppliers.

It's also crucial to set clear and realistic timeframes to eliminate all food contact materials made with harmful substances. For example, if you discover that all of your disposable items are crafted with PFAS, giving yourself 24 hours to properly dispose of these products and find eco-friendly alternatives is unrealistic. Instead, give yourself a few months so you can do proper research to find the perfect supplies for your establishment.

EPA & CDC Guidelines

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued guidance on PFAS. The EPA and CDC recommend that people limit their exposure to PFAS by avoiding contact with contaminated water, food, soil, and products. There is also concern about the impact of PFAS on human health. Many studies have linked PFAS exposure to a variety of health problems, including cancer, reproductive and developmental effects, immune system effects, and endocrine disruption.

As the awareness of the potential dangers of PFAS grows, it is important to be proactive in reducing your exposure to these chemicals. State governments have also passed laws restricting the use of firefighting foams containing PFAS and purchasing or producing packaging with PFAS.

Several states have taken action to protect their citizens from potentially dangerous substances found in foodservice packaging. PFAS regulations surrounding packaging vary by state, but all prohibit the distribution, sale, or offer of packaging with added or high levels of these chemicals. 

Scientist mixing chemicals

What To Expect In The Future

By 2023, the EPA is expected to issue regulations limiting PFAS in the environment, such as setting drinking water limits with these toxic chemicals. The CDC is also expected to continue to issue guidance on PFAS and human health. In addition, there have been PFAS replacements created to improve people's exposure to these harmful chemicals. The EPA and other agencies also concluded that using PFAS replacements improves health risks associated with exposure to PFAS, but no studies have demonstrated that these replacements are safe to use.

Numerous agencies are evaluating the negative impact of PFAS around the nation to publish assessments by 2023. The US Ecology organization has also conducted multiple PFAs solutions across the nation, such as solving PFAS waste disposal. As more information becomes available about the health effects and regulations of PFAS, it is essential to stay up-to-date on this issue and take steps to reduce your exposure to these chemicals.

Take Caution

To help prevent your customers from making contact with these forever chemicals, you can use organic ingredients, a water filter certified to remove PFAS, and PFAS-free packaging. Now that you understand what PFAS are and which products contain them, you can play a vital role in improving product development, health, and the environment.