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consumer reports recently found per and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances – also known as “forever Chemicals” – in more than 100 food packaging products from 24 popular retailers, leading to what some say is just the beginning of a wave of class-action lawsuits.
On the surface, PFAS don’t look threatening. They often resemble paper or cardboard and usually do not show any obvious signs of danger, but the chemical is virtually impossible to break down and has had proven consequences on consumer health and the environment. The grease-resistant compound is advantageous for food and grocery retailers who want to ensure their products stay fresh, intact and completely leak-proof, which is why the versatility of brands found using PFAS is no surprise.
Fast-food chains like Burger King and McDonald’s had more PFAS in bags for potato chips, chicken nuggets, crackers and hamburgers. However, it’s not just fast food. The report also found high levels of PFAS in packaging of supposedly health-promoting hammocks, such as Cava and Sweetgreen.
In testing over 100 food packages from 24 retailers, the report found that PFAS were found in at least some packages across all retailers. Among the other brands with the most exposure to PFAS were Nathan’s Famous and Stop & Shop. Among the least were Five Guys, Popeyes, Shake Shack and Wendy’s.
Related: Subway to remove chemical from sandwich bread after blogger protest
The chemical’s prevalence has serious implications for consumers, with some research finding that higher levels of PFAS were found in people who eat out more often. While it may seem like indirect exposure, the toxins in the packaging still make their way into the food.
“We know these substances migrate into the food you eat,” said Justin Boucher, an environmental engineer at the Food Packaging Forum. consumer reports in response to their findings. “It’s a clear and direct exposition.”
It does not stop there. When these packages are thrown away, there is a risk that the harmful compounds end up in landfills, further contaminating the water, soil and spreading toxins through the air.
While two dozen brands have been used in the study, only Burger King and McDonald’s have been met with class action so far, with most claims centered on false advertising. Burger King chose not to comment on the lawsuits when requested by TODAY, but assured that it is committed to removing PFAS from all packaging by 2025 or earlier. McDonald’s also told the agency that the claims are “baseless” as the brand has made significant progress in eliminating the chemicals from packaging, and its previous commitment to expel the chemical entirely by 2025 is still valid.
Related: Burger King is sued for misleading advertising about the size of its products