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Combo meal with a side of PFAS: Study finds 'forever chemicals' in fast-food packaging

Posted December 15, 2020 4:20 p.m. EST
Updated December 15, 2020 7:22 p.m. EST

— Popular fast-food chains may be serving up potentially hazardous chemicals in the packaging of burgers, fries and even salads, according to a new study.

Testing from Toxic-Free Future found that molded fiber bowls and trays from top health-minded food chains Cava, Freshii and Sweetgreen had high levels of fluorine, indicating that the packaging was likely treated with PFAS.

"PFAS, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are used to make food packaging resistant to grease and water. They’re often referred to as 'forever chemicals' because they’re nearly indestructible," said Kevin Loria, Consumer Reports’ health editor.

Many have been linked to potentially harmful health effects, including decreased fertility, a weakened immune system response and an increased risk for certain cancers.

Cava, Freshii, and Sweetgreen have pledged to make changes. Sweetgreen plans to be PFAS-free by the end of this year, while Freshii plans to roll out PFAS-free bowls in early 2021, if not sooner, and Cava says it will eliminate PFAS in food packaging by mid-2021.

More traditional fast-food restaurants were also found to be serving burgers and fries in packaging likely treated with PFAS, including the cardboard container for McDonald’s Big Mac and the wrapper for Burger King’s Whopper.

Other packaging found to contain fluorine included a French fry bag from McDonald’s, a chicken nuggets bag from Burger King and cookie bags from Burger King, McDonald’s and Wendy’s.

McDonald’s said it had eliminated significant classes of PFAS and added, "We know there is more progress to be made across the industry, and we are exploring opportunities with our supplier partners to go further."

Consumer Reports says Burger King and Wendy’s didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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