PFAS chemicals to be phased out of food packaging. Here’s how to avoid them.

The Food and Drug Administration announced Wednesday that companies are voluntarily phasing out the use of “forever chemicals” in food packaging, including fast-food wrappers, microwave popcorn bags and takeout containers that are grease-, oil- and water-resistant.

The “major source of dietary exposure to PFAS from food packaging … is being eliminated,” Jim Jones, deputy commissioner for human foods, said in a news release.

Companies told the FDA it could take 18 months to “exhaust the market supply from the last date of sale” of these products, though it is unclear when that would be.

Forever chemicals, or PFAS, are man-made compounds that can potentially accumulate in the body over time and take years to break down in nature. Certain PFAS, which stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have been implicated in a number of serious health effects, including some cancers, high blood pressure, disruption of the endocrine system and changes in liver function.

The FDA’s announcement “is a huge win for the public,” said Graham Peaslee, a physics professor at the University of Notre Dame who frequently tests for PFAS in everyday products.

“Nobody reads the wrapper of their hamburger to see if it has PFAS or not,” Peaslee said Wednesday. “It’s going to be a huge win that we don’t have to worry about where it ends up.”

Until the food packaging that contains forever chemicals are completely out of the market, here are steps you can take to minimize exposure from the foods you eat, PFAS experts said.


Cut back on fast food (and greasy wrappers)

Grease-resistant fast-food packaging that keeps oil and meat juices from getting on your clothes often also contains oil-resistant PFAS. This includes the paper wrappers, boxes and other containers used to serve burgers, fries and salads from fast-food chains.

Your risk of exposure to PFAS depends on the “contact time” — the time the food has spent in that plastic bag or paper wrapper, Jamie DeWitt said last year. DeWitt, a former professor of pharmacology and toxicology at East Carolina University, is director of the Environmental Health Sciences Center at Oregon State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

In 2022, Consumer Reports tested more than 100 food packages and reported higher levels of PFAS in wraps, trays and bags from Burger King, McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A and Cava, among others.

The properties that make PFAS such useful compounds for oil-resistant fast-food wrappers (and rain coats) are the same reason these chemicals can persist for years.

“These chemicals are unique because of their ability to cause harm at such low levels,” David Andrews, senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, said last year, adding that the chemicals can prove to be a health concern at “parts per trillion” in drinking water. “They actually stick to our blood, and they tend to accumulate in our bodies.”

Peaslee said people are often concerned that the PFAS used in grease-resistant wrappers and popcorn bags will end up in the food they’re eating. “But it doesn’t really migrate to the food really well,” he said Wednesday.

The biggest concern is what happens when that wrapper ends up in a landfill. PFAS are called forever chemicals because of their ability to persist in the environment for hundreds, even potentially thousands of years. As the paper disintegrates over time, the PFAS collects in the “landfill leachate,” which can end up in the water supply.

“It gets into our drinking water, it gets into our irrigation water,” Peaslee said. “It gets into our environment.”

Skip microwave popcorn

Consumers can be frustrated because there’s no simple way to test products for PFAS, and the chemicals aren’t included on ingredient lists. Switching from packaged to fresh foods that don’t spend as much time on the shelf can reduce your risk of exposure.

“In general, food packaging is a source of contamination,” Melanie Benesh, vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, said last year. “The fewer packaged foods that you are eating, the less likely you may be to be exposed.”

Some packaged foods are potentially exposed to PFAS in materials longer than others.

Some experts discourage frequent consumption of prepackaged microwave popcorn because the kernels are often sitting in that package of oil and other flavoring for an extended period.

Keith Vorst, an associate professor and director of the Polymer and Food Protection Consortium at Iowa State University, said that when we heat up food in paper linings or plastic containers, there’s a risk that some PFAS potentially coating the packaging can turn into a vapor and contaminate what we eat.

But “we don’t know” what the risk of exposure is, Vorst said last year. “That is one area that we need to do some work in.”

It’s also not clear how much of our exposure to PFAS comes directly from the food supply. The FDA tested for 30 different types of PFAS in samples of 718 foods. It found 701 of the samples to be free of PFAS. Experts say the study was too limited in scope to draw broad conclusions because there are thousands of PFAS in use.

The testing of the food supply needs to be comprehensive, Andrews said last year.

Avoid nonstick cookware

Nonstick pots and pans are often coated in a material with PFAS. Peaslee said last year that he has switched to ceramic cookware, and his eggs “are no worse than they used to be.”


“Be a little wary of things that are marketed as nonstick or stain resistant or water resistant,” Benesh said last year.

Cooking with stainless steel or cast-iron pans isn’t just about protecting yourself from these forever chemicals, DeWitt said last year. Your potential exposure from a nonstick pan may not be significant, but that doesn’t consider what it took to create the pan.

“The production of that pan is going to negatively impact other people who are bearing the brunt of the pollution that is produced when that nonstick coating is manufactured and applied,” DeWitt said.

Store leftovers in glass containers

Experts recommend storing leftovers and other food in glass containers, not plastic, in the fridge.

“Move away from plastics wherever possible,” Cindy Luppi, the national field director for Clean Water Action, said last year. “That’ll be one relatively easy and cost-effective thing to do.”

Drink filtered or bottled water

Check the results of water testing where you live and consider adding a water filtration system at home. Carbon filters on faucets or in water pitchers can reduce the levels of PFAS, if the filters are replaced regularly, Andrews said last year. Reverse osmosis systems installed under sink faucets “can typically eliminate the PFAS contamination.”

Andrews said these systems “typically cost a couple hundred dollars but can be more effective at removing PFAS.”

Your water supplier should provide water testing results. In March 2023, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed drinking-water standards that will require water utilities to reduce levels of PFAS contamination.


The low-density plastic used for bottled water is not considered a potential source of PFAS contamination, Peaslee said last year. Unless a manufacturer makes a specific safety claim about PFAS, there’s no way for a consumer to know if the bottled water itself has been tested. “Bottled water is a lot safer than drinking a contaminated well with PFAS in it,” Peaslee said.

Check the source of the fish you eat

PFAS have been widely detected in freshwater fish. The FDA conducted a “targeted seafood survey” in 2022 and detected PFAS in 74 percent of the seafood tested, including in clams, cod, crab, pollock, salmon, shrimp, tilapia and tuna.

“The data on PFAS in seafood is still very limited,” the FDA wrote in a report on PFAS in foods. “However, our testing indicates that seafood may be at higher risk for environmental PFAS contamination compared with other types of foods.”

Locally caught fish is more likely to have higher PFAS levels than farm-raised fish, experts say. Check statewide advisories before eating a recreationally caught fish. The FDA says people should continue to eat a “variety of healthy foods, including seafood.” The agency found the levels of PFAS detected in most of the seafood products tested did not appear to pose a “human health concern.”

“Be cognizant of fish advisories,” DeWitt said last year. “Consume fish because it’s healthy for you. But don’t eat fish for every meal every day.”