'Forever Chemicals' Phased Out of Fast-Food Wrappers

A voluntary effort to eliminate the substances from wrappers began four years ago.

A Burger King Whopper and McDonald's Big Mac, Walpole, Mass., April 20, 2022.
A Burger King Whopper and McDonald's Big Mac, Walpole, Mass., April 20, 2022.
AP Photo/Steven Senne, File

Fast-food wrappers and packaging that contain so-called forever chemicals are no longer being sold in the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration announced Wednesday.

It's the result of a voluntary effort with U.S. food manufacturers to phase out food contact packaging made with PFAS, the acronym for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which do not degrade and can harm human health.

Starting in 2020, the FDA obtained commitments from U.S. food manufacturers to phase out PFAS in wrappers, boxes and bags with coating to prevent grease, water and other liquids from soaking through.

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

PFAS chemicals have been linked to health problems affecting cholesterol levels, the function of the liver and the immune system and certain kinds of cancer.

Ridding packaging of the chemicals is a "great step in the right direction," said Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, a pediatrics professor at the UW School of Medicine in Seattle, who has studied PFAS chemicals found in breast milk and elsewhere.

Removing the packaging from the U.S. market eliminates "the primary source of dietary exposure" from certain food contact uses, the FDA said, but Sathyanarayana noted there are "many sources of PFAS in our environment."

Drinking water is a key one, Sathyanarayana said. Consumers concerned about PFAS levels can look at maps maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency to see if their water is affected and obtain filters to remove the chemicals.

PFAS also accumulates in meat and dairy, she said, and advises people to cut back on those foods. She also recommended avoiding certain indoor cleaning solvents or products treated with water-resistant chemicals, as well as removing shoes indoors to keep from tracking PFAS into the house and washing your hands before eating or preparing food.

"None of us can avoid it," she said.

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