Dangerous PFAS chemicals are in your food packaging
Identifying the exact type of PFAS in a product is complex: there are more than 9,000 known PFAS, but common test methods can only identify about 20.
Thus, CR has tested the products for their total organic fluorine content, which is considered the easiest way to assess the total PFAS content of a material. Indeed, all PFAS contain organic fluorine and there are few other sources of the compound, says Graham Peaslee, PhD, professor of physics, chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, who has studied PFAS in food packaging.
Another complication: PFAS is so widely used (found in ink on food packaging, recycled paper, machinery that makes packaging, etc.) that it often appears unintentionally in products.
Scientists and regulators are still debating what level of organic fluoride indicates intentional use. California has banned intentionally added PFAS; from January 2023, paper food packaging must contain less than 100 parts per million of organic fluorine. Denmark has chosen 20 ppm as the threshold. CR experts support the 20 ppm limit.
“If they can get to 100 ppm, they should be able to get to 20 ppm,” says Peaslee. “Lower is always the ultimate goal.”
CR tested multiple samples of 118 products and calculated average organic fluorine levels for each. Overall, CR detected this element in more than half of the food packaging tested. Almost a third – 37 products – had organic fluorine levels above 20 ppm and 22 were above 100 ppm.
Of the 24 retailers we looked at, nearly half had at least one product above this level, and most had one or more above 20ppm. But almost all of them also had products below this amount. For example, while the two products with the highest average levels were from Nathan’s, the chain also had four products below 20 ppm. Nathan’s told CR that it was repackaging and eliminated the high level items, as did Chick-fil-A, which had the item with the next highest level in CR’s tests.
CR’s test results are not representative of all retailer packaging, and packaging may have changed since CR performed these tests.