Whole Foods has pulled a variety of food packaging from stores following a Safer Chemicals Healthy Families and Toxic-Free Future study released this week that found most of the grocery chain’s takeout containers were likely treated with a type of harmful manmade chemical.
For the report, called Take Out Toxics: PFAS Chemicals in Food Packaging, researchers tested 78 food packaging samples from five of the largest grocery stores in the country: Albertsons, Kroger, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods Market, and Ahold Delhaize, which owns Food Lion, Stop and Shop, and Hannaford.
The researchers found that 63% of the takeout containers tested were likely treated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances known as PFAS for short. This type of manmade chemical has been linked to adverse health effects including cancer, according to the EPA. Two-thirds of the paper takeout containers studied contained elevated fluorine levels, meaning they were likely treated with PFAS, the report says.
“Four out of the five analyzed takeout containers from Whole Foods Market were likely treated with PFAS,” the report concluded.
When Safer Chemicals Healthy Families and Toxic-Free Future shared the results with Whole Foods, the grocery chain released this statement:
“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.”
The other grocers had fewer items that tested positive for the substance, Bloomberg’s Tiffany Kary and Deena Shanker reported. Trader Joe’s was the only company that had zero items test positive for PFAS, they wrote.
“Trader Joe’s is asking its vendors to avoid the use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in packaging for our products. In addition, Trader Joe’s does not have food bars or delis, so takeout food containers are typically not found in our stores,” a spokeswoman told the Bloomberg journalists.
Safer Chemicals Healthy Families and Toxic-Free Future, citing health advocates, urged grocery chains and food retailers to adopt public policies with clear quantifiable goals and timelines for reducing and eliminating PFAS in all private label and brand-name food-contact materials.
They encouraged retailers to publicly report on progress and announce when their products are PFAS-free. In addition, they said that companies should agree to meet the new Washington state ban on PFAS use in food packaging, not just in Washington but nationwide.
Previous studies have found that microwave popcorn bags, fast food wrappers, and food serviceware items like plates and bowls are likely to be treated with PFAS, the organizations say.