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Food packaging and PFAS

Safe Food Campaign media release 16 December 2022

“By not buying certain types of food packaging, you will lower undesirable chemicals going into your body,” says Alison White of the Safe Food Campaign. Food packaging may be increasing persistent chemical contaminants in the body and environment.

“For example, don’t buy microwave popcorn, which has several PFAS”

This past week part of Auckland’s water supply has been shut down due to PFAS levels. What are PFAS and where do they come from?

PFAS, also labelled “forever chemicals” because of their persistence, per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, have been found in a number of water sources in New Zealand[1]. “PFAS are likely found in the blood of virtually every person on the planet, including newborn babies and animals,” states a scientific editorial published this year [2]. Some PFAS have been linked to cancer, birth defects, liver disease, thyroid disease, decreased immunity, hormone disruption and a range of other serious health problems[3].

One New Zealand authority concluded the levels of PFAS found here "are unlikely to cause immediate adverse health effects” [4]. But researcher Dr Melanie Kah, from the University of Auckland, points out it is not yet understood what level of PFAS is safe. “There is still so much that is unknown,” says Dr Kah. “Guidelines for safe levels are not available for all PFAS, and the guidelines we do have are being revised constantly as more ecotoxicological and health data becomes available[1].”

Food packaging containing PFAS include grease-resistant paper, fast food containers or wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes and lolly wrappers. The chemicals are used to make packaging resistant to water, oil and heat. A European survey of five countries found nearly half of fast food analysed contained PFAS, sometimes with extremely high levels [5].

Other PFAS sources include non-stick cookware, stain and water-repellent carpet and fabric, shampoo, cosmetics, dental floss and varnish.

“Use your power as a consumer to ask sellers and manufacturers not to use these chemicals,” says Ms White. “There are alternatives. These alternatives don’t need to be made from fossil fuels that also add to climate change.”


PFAS – pronounce pea-fass

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