Know Your Materials Safer Foodservice Packaging Materials
ome coatings used to make paper-based foodservice packaging greaseresistant carry known health risks. Here’s a way to eliminate those—and keep the packaging a recyclable material that’s affordable.
For a long time, food-contact fiber packaging used in foodservice for bags, paper wrappings, paperboard trays, and so on, has been treated to protect it from grease. As seen on CNN and CBS News, it turns out that consumers now need protection from the packaging. Making food service packaging moisture and grease-resistant is an aesthetic imperative for foods with moisture and fat content such as doughnuts, cake slices, sandwiches, french fries, and pizza. Seeing big grease spots on the wrapping or tray can be messy and a turnoff—an unpleasant reminder for consumers of how much fat they're consuming.
by Pan Demetrakakes
As PFOA went, the rest of the PFCs seemingly would follow. Although the FDA allows about 20 PFCs to be used for food-contact packaging, several major chains, including McDonald's and Burger King, have pledged to stop using them. However, a recent study indicates that PFCs are still widely prevalent in foodservice packaging. The study, published Feb. 1 in Environmental Science & Technology Letters, was conducted by researchers from institutions including Notre Dame, Berkeley, the Environmental Working Group, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and more. It is based on an examination of 400 pieces of packaging—wrappers, cups, and paperboard trays and holders—collected at coffeehouses and fast-food restaurants from 27 chains in five U.S. metro areas, including Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, McDonald's, and Burger King. Researchers found that 46% of the wrappers and 20% of the paperboard samples had traces of fluorine, the base chemical of PFCs.
For more than three decades, a frequently-used grease-resistant treatment for paper-based foodservice packaging has consisted of imbuing the fiber with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). This is a family of chemicals based on fluorine that helps paper and paperboard resist moisture and grease without unduly altering its appearance or texture.
The presence of fluorine is not absolute proof that a piece of packaging has been treated with PFCs, but the likelihood is strong, since fluorine does not naturally occur in paper. The researchers followed up by testing 20 of the fluorine-positive samples with a longer, more elaborate procedure that can detect PFCs with certainty. They found that, not only did most of them indeed contain PFCs, but six of them had PFOA, the additive that is supposedly being phased out.
But beginning in the early 2000s, concerns began to be raised over PFCs and health. Studies have shown that PFCs can migrate from food packaging into the food you eat and if ingested, can remain in the human bloodstream for years and expose consumers to risk of cancer, liver and kidney damage, interference with hormone levels, and other potential health problems.
The concern is that, in food-contact packaging like paper wrappers or paperboard clamshells, PFCs will leach into the food. A 2008 FDA study demonstrated that, not only does this happen, but the effect is enhanced by oil and grease—which are disproportionately present in many of the foods packaged in PFC-imbued material. Once fluorine enters the human body, it leaves only gradually; the process can take years. The study in Environmental Science & Technology Letters shows that foodservice end users can’t depend on the packaging supply sector as a whole to remove PFCs. Short of an absolute ban by the FDA, which isn't likely, major packaging suppliers will in all likelihood continue to use PFCs for the foreseeable future. If coffeehouses, restaurants and other foodservice venues want packaging free of PFCs, they have to seek it out.
One of the most widely used PFCs in packaging and other applications was perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), the primary chemical component of Teflon. But PFOA became notorious after studies concluded that it was both highly pervasive—by one estimate, 98% of the U.S. adult population carried it in their bloodstreams—and especially toxic. Eventually, the Food and Drug Administration banned PFOA, along with two other PFCs, from food-contact packaging. 3M Corp. stopped making PFOA in 2002; DuPont and other U.S. manufacturers vowed in 2011 to phase out PFOA production entirely.
This is certainly possible. Grease-resistant packaging materials have been available for at least 10 years. The problem is that they are not all created equal. cont. on page 14
12 April 2017