Fast food chains promise to remove ‘chemicals forever’ found in packaging

(ABC4) – Three popular American fast-food brands are pledging to make their meals healthier, not by changing foods, but by removing chemicals found in some packaging.

Restaurant Brands International, owner of Burger King, Popeyes and Tim Hortons, announced plans late Wednesday to eliminate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from all consumer packaging globally by the end of 2025 or sooner.

On the same day, Chick-Fil-A also said they would remove PFAS from their product packaging, tweeting, “Chick-fil-A has intentionally removed added PFAS from all future newly produced packaging in its supply chain. Although some legacy packaging may still be in restaurants, it should be phased out by the end of the summer.

Commonly used chemicals have earned the nickname “eternal chemicals” because they break down so slowly and can be found in our body, water, soil, air and food. In addition, these substances are toxic.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency said high levels of certain PFAS can lead to reproductive problems, developmental delays, increased risk of cancer, decreased immune response, interference with the body’s natural hormones, high cholesterol, and increased risk of obesity .

A study published Thursday by Consumer Reports found PFAS in more than half of 118 samples of food packaging taken from major restaurants and grocery stores.

Effective January 1, 2023, California will ban food packaging with PFAS levels equal to or greater than 100 parts per million of total fluorine, levels found by Consumer Reports in the following items: Arby’s paper cookie bag, Burger King paper for cookies, cava fiber tray for children’s meal, Chick-fil-A wrapper for sandwich, McDonald’s paper bag for fries, Nathan paper bag for sides, Sweetgreen paper bag for focaccia and bag in Taco Bell paper for chips.

In recent years, a number of grocery stores and restaurants have pledged to phase out PFAS, but the ubiquity of the chemicals makes it difficult to phase them out completely, the companies told Consumer Reports.

Last year, McDonald’s said they had eliminated a “significant subset of PFAS” in packaging and pledged to remove all “added fluorine compounds” by 2025.

Early 2020, Taco Bell made a similar promisestating: “PFAS, phthalates and BPA will be removed from all consumer packaging materials.”

Moving away from the use of PFAS is doable, however, according to Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at Consumer Reports.

“We know from our testing that it’s possible for retailers to use packaging with very low levels of PFAS,” Ronholm said. “So the good news is that companies can take steps now to reduce their use of these dangerous chemicals.”

The same companies selling items with high PFAS levels already have packaging for other menu items with low or no detectable PFAS levels, according to the report.

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