The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), announced on July 31, 2020, that the manufacturers of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) used in grease-proofing for food packaging boxes or wrappers have agreed to discontinue their sales in the United States. This action was taken following the FDA post-market scientific review and new data analysis that raised concerns regarding human health risks due to chronic exposure to PFAS through food.
The paper products used to pack food are treated with short-chain PFAS so as to make the products water and grease resistant. Sandwich wrappers, bakery bags, french-fry boxes, pizza boxes have been found to contain toxic PFAS. As these chemicals can leach into our food and also contaminate soil, air, and water after disposal, the use of PFAS in treating food packaging products can cause unnecessary exposure to harmful chemical substances.
Recent studies performed by scientists at the FDA have shown that certain PFAS used in food packaging boxes contain short-chain PFAS with 6:2 fluorotelomer alcohol. Though the studies were performed in rodents and at higher doses than expected in humans, the findings suggest that there is a potential of short-chain PFAS persisting in humans as a result of long-term dietary exposure to PFAS.
Starting from January 2021, three manufacturers of PFAS for food boxes will initialize their three-year phase-out of their sales in the U.S. After this phase-out period, it has been estimated that it might take at least 18 months to deplete the paper and paperboard product stocks in the market. Another manufacturer has intimated the FDA that they have discontinued their sales of short-chain PFAS products in 2019. The gradual phasing out process has been planned to avoid market disruptions in food packaging product supply chains during this time of COVID-19-related public health crisis.
The FDA is committed to monitoring the voluntary phase-out of the PFAS manufacturing industry and ensures that steps are taken to reduce consumer exposure. The agency continues to assess food products for potential PFAS contamination.