How to limit toxic exposure from holiday feasts

By Ariana Figueroa | 11/27/2019 01:15 PM EST

A new report looks at retailer efforts to decrease use of PFAS, including in food packaging and cookware products.

A new report looks at retailer efforts to decrease use of PFAS, including in food packaging and cookware products. Paul Townsend/Flickr

You might not be able to avoid the toxic relative at your dinner table this Thanksgiving, but you can try to limit your exposure to toxic chemicals in this year’s feast.

A report released last week evaluates retailer efforts to eliminate toxic chemicals, including in food packaging. Touted as the largest-ever study of its kind, the study rates retailers for their chemical safety policies.

"For the first time ever, major retail grocers and restaurants are focused on eliminating classes of toxic chemicals, such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), ortho-phthalates and bisphenols from food packaging materials, which have been found to be a source of exposure to harmful contaminants," said a press release from Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, calling the development a "major consumer health win."


PFAS are used in a range of consumer products because of their nonstick and water-resistant properties. Often used in food packaging, the chemicals are linked to multiple health problems such as birth defects, thyroid issues and some cancers.

Mike Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center and a report co-author, said, "We applaud retail market leaders for protecting public health and the environment while our federal government refuses to act. Eliminating toxic chemicals — like PFAS and phthalates — from food packaging meets growing customer demand for greater food safety."

Liz Hitchcock, acting director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, said she has heard concerns from people about using pans coated with nonstick properties for cooking big holiday dinners.

Concern about kitchenware containing PFAS has even made ripples on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.) introduced H.R. 2566, which would require EPA to revise the Safer Choice Standard to provide labels for pots, pans and other cooking utensils that do not contain PFAS. It passed through the Energy and Commerce Committee in a PFAS package that is on its way to the House floor for a vote (E&E Daily, Nov. 21).

Other health organizations, such as the Center for Environmental Health, warn people about using canned food such as cranberries and corn, as studies have found bisphenol A, or BPA, in them. BPA can be found in some plastics, and studies have linked the chemicals to disrupting hormones.