Fast Food Brands Promise Change To Packaging After Startling Report

Earlier this week, some disturbing news about fast food packaging came to light. A Consumer Reports study found that many fast food packagings — but especially paper packaging such as cookie bags and sandwich wrappers — contain very high levels of PFAS or "forever chemicals" that the food absorbs. Those who are exposed to very high levels of PFAS can experience reproductive issues and develop a higher risk of some cancers (via EPA). 

Though the chemicals are found in many items — including non-stick coatings, dairy products, and electronics — some of the restaurants named by Consumer Reports as using materials containing PFAS are moving quickly to respond to this issue. Chick-fil-A announced on March 23 that it would phase out all PFAS packaging by the end of summer 2022 (via Twitter). Chains belonging to Restaurant Brands International (such as Burger King, Tim Hortons, and Popeyes) also plan to phase out PFAS food packaging by 2025, according to a March 24 press release from As You Sow, a "shareholder advocacy nonprofit."

CAVA, a Mediterranean fast casual chain, was ahead of the game, sharing on its website on March 1 it has been moving towards removing PFAS from its packaging, but was delayed "due to a multitude of factors," such as supply chain disruptions and the pandemic. Originally the chain had planned to eliminate them by "mid-2021," per an August 2020 statement.

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In a statement, As You Sow noted that low-income communities and people of color are more likely to experience the many negative side effects of PFAS exposure. And the Consumer Reports study was not the first time these harmful chemicals have been found and noted in food packaging. According to the statement, such chemicals were found in Burger King's food packaging during a 2020 Toxic-Free Future study

Following pressure from investors and others, as well as trailing behind competitor chains like McDonald's and Wendy's in committing to remove PFAS (both chains also had food packaging listed in the recent Consumer Reports study, though only McDonald's was called out for unsafe levels of the chemicals), Burger King and other Restaurant Brands International chains are now committed to eliminating PFAS. "We are pleased Burger King has committed to eliminate these harmful chemicals from its consumer packaging. While the commitment means that Burger King is catching up to its competitors, investors look forward to continued efforts by the company to better protect the environment and public health," said Ariana Guilak, environmental health program coordinator at As You Sow. 

Other brands named in the Consumer Reports list — like Arby's, which (along with Dunkin' and Sonic) is owned by Inspire Brands – have yet to share plans to eliminate the toxic chemicals from packaging.