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News From the Food and Drug Administration
September 15, 2020

Phasing Out Potentially Hazardous Food Packaging

JAMA. 2020;324(11):1026. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.16505

Three manufacturers agreed to a 3-year phaseout of certain perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that are used to prevent grease from penetrating food packaging such as fast-food wrappers and takeout boxes, the FDA announced.

Rodent studies raised questions that warrant further study about potential health risks from chronic dietary exposure to the chemicals, FDA officials said. The data pertain to short-chain PFAS that contain 6:2 fluorotelomer alcohol (6:2 FTOH), which the agency noted may migrate to food and cannot be removed by washing or cooking.

iStock.com/patrickheagney

The substances “may persist in humans following dietary exposure,” FDA officials said in a statement. Scientists from the agency showed in Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology that a metabolite of 6:2 FTOH lingers in rats’ plasma, fat, and liver. Another FDA study, published in Food and Chemical Toxicology, found that previous research may have underestimated the chemical’s health risk.

Because human studies have linked PFAS exposure with a weakened antibody response to vaccines, federal health authorities indicated that more research is needed to determine how exposure to the chemicals may affect illness from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Despite the chemicals’ discontinuation, packaging won’t immediately become PFAS-free. After the 3-year phaseout begins in January 2021, it may take 18 months for remaining stock to be used, FDA officials said. Gradual removal will minimize potential market disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic, they added.

A fourth manufacturer reported last year that it had halted production of packaging with the substance. In the meantime, FDA officials are reviewing other uses of PFAS in food production and plan to monitor PFAS levels in the food supply.

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