Three popular American fast-food brands are committing to making their meals healthier – not by changing the food, but by removing chemicals found in some of the packaging.
Restaurant Brands International, which owns Burger King, Popeyes, and Tim Hortons, announced plans late Wednesday to eliminate per- and polyflouroalkyl substances (PFAS) from all consumer packaging globally by the end of 2025 or sooner.
The same day, Chick-Fil-A also stated they would remove PFAS from their product packaging, tweeting, “Chick-fil-A has eliminated intentionally added PFAS from all newly produced packaging going forward in its supply chain. While some legacy packaging may still be in restaurants, it is expected to be phased out by the end of the summer.”
The commonly used chemicals have earned the nickname “forever chemicals” because they break down so slowly and can be found in our bodies, water, soil, air and food. Additionally, these substances are toxic.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says high levels of certain PFAS may cause reproductive issues, developmental delays, increased risk of cancer, diminished immune response, interference with the body’s natural hormones, elevated cholesterol and higher risk of obesity.
A study released Thursday by Consumer Reports found PFAS in more than half of the 118 food package samples taken from major restaurants and grocery stores.
Starting January 1, 2023, California will be banning food packaging with PFAS levels at or above 100 parts per million total flourine, levels Consumer Reports found present in the following items: Arby’s paper bag for cookies, Burger King paper bag for cookies, Cava fiber tray for kids meal, Chick-fil-A wrapper for sandwich, McDonald’s paper bag for french fries, Nathan’s paper bag for sides, Sweetgreen paper bag for focaccia and Taco Bell paper bag for chips.
Over the last several years a number of grocery stores and restaurants have pledged to phase out PFAS, but the omnipresence of the chemicals makes it hard to completely eliminate them, companies told Consumer Reports.
Last year, McDonald’s said they had eliminated a “significant subset of PFAS” in packaging and committed to removing all “added flourinated compounds” by 2025.
At the start of 2020, Taco Bell made a similar pledge, stating, “PFAS, Phthalates and BPA will be removed from all consumer-facing packaging materials.”
Moving away from the use of PFAS is doable, however, according to Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at Consumer Reports.
“We know from our testing that it is feasible for retailers to use packaging with very low PFAS levels,” Ronholm said. “So the good news is there are steps that companies can take now to reduce their use of these dangerous chemicals.”
The same companies selling items with high PFAS levels already have packaging for other menu items with either low, or non-detectable levels of PFAS, the report found..