Food chains like McDonald’s and Cava are likely using chemicals in their food packaging that’s been linked to health issues, according to new research from two consumer advocacy groups.
The Mind the Store campaign and Toxic-Free Future sampled 38 wrappers, boxes, and bowls from six food chains across three states. It found that 14 of those samples had high fluorine levels, indicating that they include potentially harmful compounds known as “forever chemicals,” according to the report released Thursday.
Forever chemicals—also referred to as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS—don’t break down naturally, and “exposure to high levels of PFAS may impact the immune system,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Food and Drug Administration has been researching the effects of these chemicals for years and how much regulatory oversight they need to use to keep them at safe levels. Three companies agreed last week to stop selling forever chemicals as food packaging components under deals with the FDA.
McDonald’s said the company “eliminated significant subset classes of PFASs” from its food packaging but that “there is more progress to be made across the industry and we are exploring opportunities with our supplier partners to go further.”
The six chains analyzed in the study also included Burger King, Wendy’s, Freshii, and Sweetgreen. Burger King will extend its safe ingredients policy, which includes limited use of unhealthy oils or antibiotics in its food, to “include the removal of the short-term PFAS recently identified by the FDA,” a representative for Restaurant Brands International said. RBI owns Burger King along with Tim Hortons and Popeyes. “We will work with our suppliers to remove them from all packaging by or, where feasible, earlier than the three years recommended by the FDA,” they said.
Sweetgreen said it’s phasing out PFAS in its bowls by the end of 2020, according to the report. Cava will phase out PFAS bowls by mid-2021, “and will publicly share progress on this commitment in the year ahead,” the company said.
Wendy’s and Freshii didn’t respond to a request for comment.