What Are Fluorinated Chemicals?
Paper and fiber food service ware and packaging often contain fluorinated chemicals. The chemicals known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) persist in the environment for a very long time and are harmful to humans.
PFAS are added to food service ware and packaging for moisture, oil, and grease resistance. The concern is that PFAS can migrate into food. Another cause for alarm is the fact that during the disposal process, especially if you compost your take out containers, PFAS can contaminate drinking water, compost, and agricultural crops.
The vast majority of PFAS chemicals have very little data on their safety and health effects. The two chemicals that have been studied extensively (PFOA and PFOS) have been found to be associated with cancer, developmental toxicity, immunotoxicity, and other health issues.
What Products Contain PFAS?
Products that contain PFAS include take-out and soup containers, pizza boxes, and food trays, plates, and bowls. PFAS are also added to fabrics, carpets, furniture, clothing, and fire-fighting foams.
Often, brands do not even know if PFAS have been added to their products because the chemicals are added by the supplier of their raw materials. In some cases, manufacturers can even sell products that contain fluorinated chemicals under the same brand name as products that do not.
How to Avoid PFAS
As a general practice, we advise you to always consider the sustainability and toxicity of the materials used to make any product that you purchase. It’s also important to consider how and where the product will end up after use.
Look for disposable food service ware that is made without PFAS. Be aware that currently all molded fiber products (basically all compostable take out products) do contain PFAS.
When possible, purchase durable and reusable food containers for your family (any items from our Food Storage section), and bring them with you to fill when taking out food. If you are a corporate purchaser, you can protect your health and the health of the communities you serve by purchasing PFAS-free food containers and other service ware products.
Knowledge is key to making safe purchasing choices for you and your family. Please refer to these resources for more information:
The Collaborative Network for a Cancer Free Economy created a report to use as a guide to making smart purchasing choices that includes a list of PFAS-free manufacturers: Purchasing Safer Compostable Food Service Ware.
For more information about the human health and environmental hazards of PFAS, see the Cancer-Free Economy Network’s Hazards of PFAS Factsheet.
The Center for Environmental Health has a report of independent testing of food service ware products: Avoiding Hidden Hazards; A Purchaser’s Guide to Safer Foodware.