Foodservice Packaging and… Fluorochemicals

Foodservice packaging is made from a wide variety of materials. These products go through rigorous testing to ensure that they meet stringent regulations, ensuring the safe delivery of foodservice items to consumers.

However, there has been some confusion over the safety of some chemicals used in the manufacture of paper foodservice packaging, particularly claims that certain coatings are “toxic” and dangerous to human health and the environment. All Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals are not the same and should not be treated the same.  The truth is…

    • Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of over 3,000 synthetic, man-made chemicals. They are also referred to as “polyfluorinated chemicals” (PFCs). There are variations within this large class of chemicals, including their properties, toxicity and intended use.
    • Certain PFAS may safely be used in some paper foodservice packaging items likes wraps, food containers and plates to prevent oil, grease and water from leaking through the package onto skin, clothing, furniture, etc.
    • Two common sub-categories of PFAS include:
        • “Long chain” or “C8” chemicals, since they have 8 or more carbons in their structure. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) are two examples. It should be noted that PFOA and PFOS — the subject of much attention these days by regulators, the media and environmental groups —  were not used in food packaging applications. In addition, long chain PFAS chemistries were voluntarily phased out and are no longer allowed in the U.S., Canada and other parts of the world.
        • “Short chain” or “C6” chemicals, since they have 6 or less carbons in their structure. Manufacturers of these newer chemicals — like all chemicals that may come in contact with food — submit their specific formulations to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, Health Canada and other appropriate regulatory agencies for rigorous review.
    • In August 2020, the U.S. FDA announced a voluntary phase-out plan for a certain type of short-chain per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), that contain 6:2 fluorotelomer alcohol (6:2 FTOH), which may be found in certain food contact substances used as grease-proofing agents on paper and paperboard food packaging.
    • Other PFAS chemicals, with proper FDA Food Contact Notifications (FCNs), may continue to be used.
    • While some paper foodservice packaging may continue to use approved PFAS chemicals, other packaging items may be manufactured without the use of them. As non-PFAS alternatives are introduced, performance, price and market availability are all factors that will impact their broader use and acceptance
    • Unfortunately, testing for PFAS chemicals remains inconsistent. Recent studies tested for the presence of fluorine to determine whether PFAS was used in food packaging. While the test may be an indicator of the use of PFAS, it does not differentiate between “long chain” or “short chain” PFAS, and it may not provide accurate results. The presence of fluorine does not mean the presence of PFAS.
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