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Consumer Reports Investigates: Are dangerous chemicals in your fast food wrappers?

CR found PFAS, or forever chemicals, in many types of packaging from fast-food restaurants and from grocery stores.

CLEVELAND — Think about that takeout food order you made recently—almost all of it probably came wrapped or boxed in one form or another. And it’s what’s in some of that packaging that is raising concern. A new investigation from Consumer Reports finds potentially dangerous chemicals in many commonly used food wrappers. 

Over 100 food packaging products were tested for so-called forever chemicals—or PFAS—from popular retailers, and what they found is concerning.

CR found PFAS in many types of packaging. In packaging from fast-food restaurants and from grocery stores. We even found it in packaging from places that say they’re moving away from PFAS.

PFAS, also known as forever chemicals because, in general, they don’t break down in landfills, have been linked to serious health problems such as increased risk for some cancers, lowered immunity, and liver damage.

So if PFAS is in food packaging, is it also in the food? PFAS can migrate from packaging into food you eat, like that burger wrapped in paper that contains PFAS or that salad in a molded fiber bowl.

Research even suggests that people who eat out regularly may indeed have higher PFAS levels in their blood. 

Paper bags, molded fiber bowls, and single-use plates had the highest PFAS levels on average from all the food packaging tested. While takeout containers and paper trays had some of the lowest.

In response to CR, some companies stressed that with PFAS so common in the environment, it’s nearly impossible to eliminate them entirely. Several companies are also in the process of redoing their packaging to phase out PFAS. 

Still, more than half of the products tested had low PFAS levels, so it’s clearly possible for companies to reach lower levels.

In the meantime, CR recommends you transfer your takeout food out of its packaging when you can. And don’t reheat your food in its packaging.

It also helps to look for retailers that have pledged to reduce PFAS. While CR found their levels not at zero, they tended to be lower than elsewhere.

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