PFAS and Foodservice Packaging
You may have seen headlines about PFAS that pose a warning about their effect on health and the environment. But what exactly are PFAS chemicals and how are they related to foodservice operators? We’ll explain what these chemicals are and how they affect your business.
What Are PFAS?
PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a group of chemicals that were first manufactured in the mid-twentieth century and added to consumer products mainly for their water-resistant and grease-resistant properties. They’re also called highly fluorinated chemicals.
What Are Forever Chemicals?
PFAS are called forever chemicals because they do not break down in the environment. The properties that make PFAS highly useful in products also make it hard for these chemicals to degrade. Heat resistance, water resistance, and corrosion resistance essentially keep PFAS from breaking down. The issue with forever chemicals is that they can migrate from products to food and water sources. According to the EPA, PFAS are now found in water, air, fish, and soil.
How Is Foodservice Affected by PFAS?
PFAS are widely used in foodservice packaging like takeout containers, nonstick cookware, and food wraps, all products that operators rely on to run their businesses. While the effects of PFAS are still being studied, many states have already moved to ban products that are intentionally manufactured with these chemicals.
So far, the following states have bans on PFAS:
- Maine (effective January 1, 2030)
- Minnesota (effective January 1, 2024)
- New York
- Vermont (effective July 1, 2023)
What Types of Products Contain PFAS?
PFAS are highly successful at resisting oil, grease, and moisture, which makes them very useful in food packaging. Harmful PFAS may be present in grease-resistant paper, non-stick cookware, microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes, and takeout containers.
How To Avoid PFAS
If PFAS have been banned in your state or you are interested in avoiding these chemicals, try these tips:
- Look for products labeled “No PFAS Added”
- Encourage your customers to bring their own reusable takeout containers, coffee mugs, and straws
- If you use non-stick cookware, make sure to use non-abrasive cleaning tools on the coating, and don’t heat your pans above 400 degrees Fahrenheit
Learn More About PFAS
If you want to learn more about PFAS chemicals and the government's response, you can visit these sites:
- EPA - United States Environmental Protective Agency
- NIH - National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
- FDA - U.S. Food and Drug Administration
The most important thing you can do for your business is to stay up to date on the information and legislation regarding PFAS. The studies are ongoing and new laws are expected to be put in place over the next few years. By phasing out PFAS products gradually you can stay ahead of the game and your business won’t be hit as hard.