PFAS regulations: Addressing “forever chemicals” in food packaging and other products

PFAS regulations: Addressing “forever chemicals” in food packaging and other products

By Ohana Medeiros

Making products last longer and be more resistant to heat, oil, stains, grease, and water, comes with a long-lasting price. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a family of 5,000 chemicals used for those purposes, but they are also known as “forever chemicals,” essentially because they are designed to be extremely durable, and difficult to destroy even at high temperatures, which means that these chemicals will not readily deteriorate. PFAS contain strong carbon–fluorine bonds, which is why these chemicals are non-biodegradable, and their use raises serious concerns regarding persistence in the environment and bioaccumulation. Here, we provide an overview of PFAS regulations that are in the works or already in place, affecting companies in the F&B and CPG industries that have come to depend on these chemicals in their products.

The problem – Increasing exposure to PFAS:

The use of PFAS went from pesticides to food packaging in the 1940s, but its toxicity has always been an issue for human health, which has been affected by consuming such persistent chemicals, resulting in chronic dietary exposure diseases. Millions of consumers are getting more and more CPG, fast food, takeout, and pizza boxes made with forever chemicals for grease-proofing, to preserve heat, or to waterproof the package – and these are just some examples of how consumers rapidly increased PFAS levels in their bodies. 

Water contamination is another major problem caused by the use of these forever chemicals. PFAS quickly pollutes the environment, contaminating the air, soil, and water and causing problems for manufacturers, as well, as they are particularly vulnerable to controversies and lawsuits.

Voluntary PFAS phaseout plan:

In 2020, United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scientists published results of studies on certain PFAS used in food packaging, and these results show an expansive rate of serious human health problems such as low birth weight, kidney cancer, and thyroid issues. In July of the same year, the FDA announced an agreement with manufacturers to voluntarily implement a 3-year phaseout plan for certain short-chain PFAS used in food packing, beginning in January 2021. Since then, 14 fast-food and fast-casual restaurant chains have committed to eliminate forever chemicals in food packaging, affecting more than 123,534 stores and over $203.2 billion in annual sales. Additionally, 4 of the biggest grocery chains in the United States made the same commitment, corresponding to more than 5.000 stores and over $130 billion in annual sales.

US federal PFAS regulations:

As for the regulatory laws, forever chemicals have been a concern for federal and state bodies in the United States. In April 2021, the EPA Council on PFAS was established, with the main purpose of protecting public health and the environment from the impacts of PFAS, and this led to the PFAS Strategic Roadmap: EPA’s Commitments to Action 2021–2024, which outlines actions across the different divisions of the EPA. Currently, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is analyzing an initial plan submitted by the EPA to designate two PFAS, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), and a final rule is expected in Summer 2023.


Some states have their own PFAS regulations, such as California. It is expected that in 2023, the state will impose bans on forever chemicals in food wrappers, children’s products, and firefighting foam, and also require the use of the “least toxic alternative” when replacing PFAS in clothing or textiles. 

Regulations on the amount of PFAS in drinking water are also on the horizon in California, having already a non-formal federal standard for “notification levels” and “response levels” for PFOA and PFOS that are applicable to public water supply purveyors.


Across the border, Canada has been a pioneer in PFAS regulation, since the use, sale, and importation of PFOS and PFOS-containing products has been prohibited since 2008, with exceptions for some products used in firefighting and the military as well as some ink and photo media uses. Currently, the Canadian government is analyzing comments and information received last winter (December 2021 – March 2022) for proposed regulations to amend the Prohibition of Certain Toxic Substances Regulations, 2012. 

European Union:

On the other side of the Atlantic, the European Union has a PFAS regulation under the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) known as REACH, which has been adopted to increase human health and environmental protection from chemical dangers while also increasing the competitiveness of the EU chemicals industry. Under this regulation, the European Commission accepted a proposal by the German and Swedish authorities to restrict perfluorinated carboxylic acids (C9-14 PFCAs), their salts, and precursors in the EU/EEA from February 2023 onward. 

In the last two years, ECHA’s scientific committees supported Norway’s and Germany’s proposals to restrict perfluorohexane-1-sulphonic acid (PFHxS) and undecafluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA), its salts, and related substances, but the decision has not been finalized by the European Commission yet. 

Furthermore, a restriction proposal to cover a wide range of PFAS use is expected to be submitted to ECHA in January 2023 by the Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden.

Denmark can serve as a reference in the matter, having published Order No. 681 of May 25, 2020, entitled Executive Order on Food Contact Materials and Penal Code for Violation of Related EU Acts. This regulation prohibits PFAS compounds in food contact paper as well as board materials and articles.


Over the past 30 years, some Asian countries have increased PFAS production and usage, especially China, which is now one of the largest manufacturers and consumers of PFAS in the world; and in the Asian continent, regulations on this matter have been strengthened. China included 18 substances related to forever chemicals on the country’s list of Priority Control Chemicals, so laws and regulations on environmental risk control measures are expected in the future to enhance the New Pollutant Management Action Plan released by China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment on October 11, 2021.

Conversely, Japan’s regulations on PFAS are looser. Although PFOA was added to the list of Class I Specified Chemical Substances under the CSCA in April 2021, PFOA-related substances are excluded from the scope of regulation. Fortunately, this is not a trend for other Asian countries. For example, in May 2021, Thailand announced that eight substances, including PFOA, were proposed to be included as Class 4 hazardous substances (prohibited substances) in this country’s Hazardous Substances Act.

While forever chemicals regulation for the food and beverage sector seems to be at  an initial stage across the world, and is not even addressed at all by some Asian countries, it is pressing that research and testing be carried out of substances and components already known in the scientific community that have the potential to replace PFAS in human dietary products and packaging.

What do F&B and CPG companies need to do?

Certainly, F&B and CPG companies will stand out if they do not wait for laws and regulations to implement new technologies and provide safer PFAS-free products. For that to occur, it is necessary to commit and invest in research to develop environmentally friendly alternatives that will be both food safe and compatible with consumer needs while complying with regulatory policies.

For a start, industry can already produce cosmetics made from organic and vegan ingredients, waterproof strollers and car seats made of cork and recyclable PET, and also polymer membranes for industrial applications without using toxic fluorinated processes, all PFAS-free, as shown in the PreScouter Intelligence Brief Alternative PFAS Chemistries: How can we reduce our dependence on forever chemicals? 

In early spring 2022, PreScouter investigated safe alternatives to forever chemicals on behalf of a food manufacturer, and the team successfully identified 23 potential PFAS alternatives including both chemical and physical solutions, 3 of which were found to be promising technologies in the later stages of development, and 1 of these went on to be piloted by the client.

PFAS alternatives must be well understood in order to avoid creating the same scenario in the next decades. PFAS alternatives should be composed of non-toxic substances to be food safe and environmentally friendly, as should their production and end-of-life treatment, if we want to develop a definitive solution for this problem.

If your company is looking to transition away from the use of “forever chemicals” or you would like to know if we can help your business with other innovation challenges, please contact us here or email us at

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