One important contaminant that is not transparent in our food system is the use of “indirect additives” coming from packaging, storage & cooking. And it’s quite a conundrum because these “indirect additives” get into our food whenever heat, acid or fat are in the mix, which is quite commonplace. Unfortunately, there was no way to find out other than asking the company and hoping they have the ability to tell us. Other than that, they are under no legal obligation to be transparent about it. And in some cases, they don’t even know. I should know. I’ve been asking them for years. That is until Safer Chemicals Healthy Families and Toxic Free Future started testing samples to ascertain which brands were putting their customers into danger. The results were surprising. You’ve trusted Mamavation to bring you topics like how independent scientists determine safety, what pediatricians have to say about food packaging contaminants, & seven plastic-free food storage container ideas, now join us as we go over the “Take Out Toxins” on food packaging report.
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What Are “Indirect Additives” And Why You Should Avoid Them
“Indirect additives” are chemicals inside the plastics, food packaging materials, food processors and cookware that are used to cook, process and store food & beverages. They are problematic because they have the ability to get into the food we eat when leaching occurs. Leaching can happen whenever the following conditions are present: heat, fat or acid. And because heat, fat, and acid are common in terms of food production and preparation, they are a constant contaminant. For instance, heat can be applied by adding warm food into plastic containers for storage. Heat can also cause leaching when items in plastic are microwaved. Fat is problematic with foods containing oils or dairy. And acid is present in tomatoes and things like orange juice. Image the worst scenario would be a cup of spaghetti sauce being microwaved in a plastic bowl. The spaghetti is hot, has oil in it and citric acid from the tomatoes, which makes it the triple whammy of leaching.
There are over 3,000 chemicals approved by the Food & Drug Administration for use in food production and packaging but if you ask a company, they don’t have to tell you anything about them. In fact, some of these companies don’t even know what their packaging contains because it’s produced by a 3rd party and that 3rd party may not tell them. How do I know this? Well, I’ve been asking companies for years what their packaging contains and some of them don’t know. While other brands just won’t tell me. And this is incredibly problematic particularly to the health of pregnant women and small children. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recently come out against some of the most notorious chemicals inside food packaging citing delays in development and reproduction.
What are PFAS Chemicals In Food Packaging And Why Are They Problematic to Health
Perfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFCs aka PFOA & PFAS) are used in grease-proof paper and cardboard food packaging like pizza boxes. These chemicals are used for water and grease resistance when inside food packaging. Therefore, it’s very popular in fast food and fast casual settings. But these chemicals are extremely problematic to human health and the environment. And the worst part is they are persistent, meaning they build up and don’t go away. Here is the list of health problems perfluorinated chemicals are linked with.
- low sperm count
- smaller penis size
- reduction in immunity
- metabolic diseases like obesity & diabetes
- reduced vaccination response
- affect the growth, learning, and behavior of infants and older children
- lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant
- interfere with the body’s natural hormones
- increase cholesterol levels
- increase the risk of cancer like testicular, prostate and breast cancers
Based on the persistence of this chemical inside the body, it’s incredibly dangerous to be exposed throughout a lifetime because it will continue to build up. Therefore, it’s important to avoid these chemicals as much as possible. Avoiding it in food packaging, would be of benefit.
The Takeout Toxics Food Packaging Report
Safer Chemicals Healthy Families and Toxic Free Future tested food packaging at popular grocery stores for perfluorinated chemicals like PFAS. Paper products, like sandwich paper, used for food packaging are often treated with PFAS for water and grease resistance. Earlier testing of food packaging at fast food joints demonstrated a widespread problem. PFAS was found in sandwich wrappers, french-fry boxes, and bakery bags. This time, the focus was directed to grocery stores. They tested 78 samples collected from 20 stores in 12 states. The stores they looked at were Ahold Delhaize (parent of Food Lion, Stop and Shop, and Hannaford); Albertsons; Kroger; Trader Joe’s; and Whole Foods Market (Amazon). Below is a summary of findings.
- Likely PFAS treatment in 10 of the 78 samples of food contact materials. The most common items likely treated with PFAS were take-out containers and bakery or deli papers.
- 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.
- Our 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.
Retailers are striving to improve the safety of consumers in some way. In fact, if you wanted to know which of the 50 retailers are working hard to protect their customers, check out the Mind the Store report. But most retailers have ignored the use of perfluorinated chemicals in food wrapping. To investigate the extent to which grocery stores are using and selling PFAS containing food packaging, they tested food contact papers from five of the nation’s largest grocery chains.
Which Grocery Stores Were Guilty of Exposing Customers to Dangerous PFAS Chemicals
Retail stores were visited and several items were procured in order to test in a lab. The following items were tested: take-out containers, paper for wrapping sandwiches, paper bags, cardboard boxes, cake plates, bakery paper, single-use plates, tracks for cook-at-home food, baking cups, etc.
- Ahold Delhaize–2 out of 14 products tested positive for high fluorine content
- Albertsons–1 out of 17 products tested positive for high fluorine content
- CARRS–1 out of 17 products tested positive for high fluorine content
- Food Lion–2 out of 14 products tested positive for high fluorine content
- Fred Meyer–2 out of 18 products tested positive for high fluorine content
- Hannaford–2 out of 14 products tested positive for high fluorine content
- Harris Teeter–2 out of 18 products tested positive for high fluorine content
- Safeway–1 out of 17 products tested positive for high fluorine content
- Shaws Star Market–1 out of 17 products tested positive for high fluorine content
- Stop & Shop–2 out of 14 products tested positive for high fluorine content
- Trader Joes–0 out of 12 products tested positive for high fluorine content*
- Whole Foods/Amazon–5 out of 17 products tested positive for high fluorine content*
*After this report hit, both Whole Foods & Trader Joes made significant vows to ensure that PFAS chemicals were no longer present in any packaging at their store. We thank you and they deserve some praise for this!
Which Items Were The Most Problematic With PFAS Chemicals
Several types of food packaging items were collected and tested. Based on the categories of food packaging, it looks as if take-out containers were the worst.
- Take-Out Containers–5 out of 8 products tested high for fluorine content, especially the molded-fiber clamshells
- Bakery or Deli Items–4 out of 38 products tested high for fluorine content, especially plates under cakes
- Trays for Cook-At-Home Food–0 out of 8 products tested for high fluorine content, which were the cardboard trays holding pizza & other microwavable dishes
- Baking or Cooking Supplies–0 out of 17 products tested positive for high fluorine content, including store-brand baking cups, rolls of parchment paper, rolls of non-stick aluminum foil and wrappers for butter
Quick Tips to Avoid All PFC Chemicals Inside the Home
The perfluorinated chemical category is all about making things grease-proof, water-proof and stain-proof. So think about stain-proof clothing & carpeting, nonstick pans & bakeware, fast food wrappers, etc. And here is a list of what you can do today to start avoiding these chemicals in your life.
- Phase out the nonstick cookware in your kitchen. Here are some alternatives.
- Avoid foods with packaging and make things yourself at home
- Avoid fast food as much as possible, even the ones touting themselves as “better”
- Purchase a reverse osmosis water system for your home
- When purchasing furniture or carpet, decline optional treatments for stain and dirt resistance. This is where you can find safer furniture.
- Avoid buying clothing that bears a label indicating it’s water, stain or dirt repellant
- Avoid buying personal care products with the phrase “fluoro” or “perfluoro” on the ingredient list. You’ll find this inside lotion, pressed powders, nail polish, and shaving cream.