Takeout food packaging from several leading U.S. grocery stores is likely treated with harmful PFAS chemicals, according to a new study released by Safer Chemicals Healthy Families and Toxic-Free Future. PFAS are highly persistent and toxic chemicals whose widespread use has contaminated drinking water across the country. When used in food packaging, the chemicals can leach out of the packaging and get into the food, people, compost, and the environment.

The study, "Take Out Toxics: PFAS Chemicals in Food Packaging," found nearly two-thirds of paper takeout containers contained elevated levels of fluorine, indicating they were likely treated with PFAS. Eleven percent of bakery and deli papers tested were also likely treated with PFAS.

Researchers tested 78 food packaging samples from five of the nation’s largest grocery stores: Ahold Delhaize (parent of Food Lion, Stop and Shop, and Hannaford), Albertsons, Kroger, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market (Amazon). Items tested included paper takeout containers, bakery or deli papers, microwavable trays and baking supplies like muffin cups.

Testing results include:

  • 13% (10 out of 78 samples) of all food packaging samples tested were likely treated with PFAS.
  • 63% (5 out of 8) of takeout containers were likely treated with PFAS. Four out of the five analyzed takeout containers from Whole Foods Market were likely treated with PFAS.
  • 11% (4 out of 38) of deli and bakery papers tested were likely treated with PFAS.

Tests of packaging for cook-at-home food and home baking supplies, including microwave- and oven-cook food trays, butter wrappers, baking cups and rolls of parchment paper did not find any items likely treated with PFAS.

In many cases, retailers use or sell packaging that is free of PFAS treatment, indicating that PFAS-free alternatives are widely available and competitively priced.

In response to the report, Whole Foods Market said, “Whole Foods Market introduced compostable containers to reduce our environmental footprint, but given new concerns about the possible presence of PFAS, we have removed all prepared foods and bakery packaging highlighted in the report. We’re actively working with our suppliers to find and scale new compostable packaging options.”

This research builds upon previous studies of PFAS in food packaging, which found that microwave popcorn bags, many fast food wrappers and many food serviceware items (such as plates and bowls) are likely treated with PFAS.

PFAS are a class of industrial chemicals put in consumer products to repel grease, water and stains, and they are also used in some firefighting foams. The chemicals have also been detected in compost made from recycled paper products treated with PFAS. When the compost is spread on the land it can contaminate waterbodies, soil, wildlife and crops.