PFAS Chemicals in Food: Expert QA


Millions of people have eaten out of them: Molded fiber bowls, the popular food containers from restaurants like Chipotle and Sweetgreen.

They are supposed to be compostable and environmentally friendly, but some public health experts say the chemicals that allow these bowls to hold hot, wet, and greasy foods without falling apart are toxic to both the environment and you.

The chemicals are called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, more commonly referred to as PFAS.

The New Food Economy, a nonprofit newsroom that does investigative reporting on “forces shaping how and what we eat,” went to eight restaurants at 14 locations in New York City — including Chipotle, Sweetgreen, and Dig — and tested fiber bowls used at each restaurant. All of the samples tested had high levels of fluorine, a chemical that generally indicates the bowls were treated with PFAS compounds.

In a statement to WebMD, Chipotle said: “As evidenced in Chipotle’s Sustainability Report, we are committed to using safe and sustainable food packaging and only partner with suppliers who make fluorochemical sciences and food safety a top priority. These suppliers operate under strict guidelines set forth by the FDA, and have all provided Chipotle with certification that all raw material and finished pulp products fully meet regulatory requirements.”

We spoke with Alexis Temkin, PhD., a toxicologist at the Environmental Working Group; Arlene Blum, PhD, founder and executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute and a research associate in chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley; and Green Science senior scientist Tom Bruton, PhD, and asked them to weigh in on the discussion.

Saundra Young

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