Media Reports Fluorinated Compounds in U.S. Fast Food Packaging

Chemicals Found in Fast Food Packaging 

A number of news outlets have recently reported, referred to, and quoted the findings of a study conducted in 2014-15 by Silent Spring Institute. The study was published in the journal, “Environmental Science & Technology Letters.” It reported on the finding of chemical substances (fluorinated compounds), that have been linked with health problems and cancer, in some fast food packaging.

Fast food packaging consists mainly of paper wrappers commonly used for fast food sandwiches and desserts, and paperboard containers for French fries, pizza, etc.

FDA Banning PFOA, PFOS, and PFOS Related Products Capable of Degrading into PFOA

In February 2016, a Cork Tech Talk Newsletter titled “ALERT-FDA BANS CHEMICALS FOUND IN
SOME FOOD PACKAGING COATINGS” was issued. Addressed was the, effective January 4, 2016, FDA banning of three specific perfluoroalkyl ethyl containing chemicals because of toxicity concerns amending 21 CFR 176.170. The chemicals are PFOA, PFOS, and PFOS-related products capable of degrading into PFOA. These have been used to produce oil and water resistant paper & paperboard products.

Pertinent to Cork Industries, Inc. we stated, “Cork, from its inception, has developed and offered a wide range of aqueous coatings. A grouping of FDA §176.170 compliant oil & water resistant coatings suitable for coating paper and paperboard substrates, for use in contact with aqueous and fatty food conveyance are among these.

These Cork aqueous coatings are free of the FDA banned chemicals, PFOA, PFOS, or PFOS related products capable of degrading into PFOA. Cork oil and water resistant aqueous coatings are commonly in use for fast food carry out packaging, (i.e., French fries, onion rings, burgers, various sandwiches, fried chicken, and Chinese food, etc.) Other food products such as bakery, pastries, frozen foods, microwavable and oven able foods, and roasted chicken, are also being routinely packaged.”

Cork Today

Restating today, NONE of our Cork’s barrier coatings contain the dangerous fluorinated chemicals mentioned in recent press as being found in some fast food packaging. Cork uses no PFOA, PFOS, or PFOS- related products capable of degrading into PFOA in the formulations of its barrier coating products.

Cork, offers a wide range of barrier coating products that are FDA compliant with, 21 CFR 176.170 Paper and Paperboard components in Contact with Aqueous and Fatty Foods, or 21 CFR 176.180 Paper and Paperboard in Contact with Dry Foods. Many of these coatings are applicable to fast food packaging products.

Fast Food Packaging

The research team at Silent Spring Institute, in 2014-15 as reported, tested fast food packaging from a sampling of popular national fast food restaurants to find the results tabulated below.

Fast food packaging tested in the study fell into the following groups.
1. Food contact paper found in sandwich, burger, fried food, Tex-Mex wrappers and bags for pastry, breads, and desserts.
2. Food contact paperboard used for fries and pizza.
3. Non-contact paper used as outer bags.
4. Paper cups
5. Beverage containers for milk and juice.
6. Lids.

Detectable concentrations of fluorine is considered a marker for PFASs. The offending chemical substances, both per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), have been used in consumer products to provide anti-stick, stain-grease, and water resistance because of their hydrophobic and lipophobic properties.

These fluorinated chemicals might be used by fast food paper and paperboard packaging manufacturers as a means of preventing grease and liquids/sauces from leaking through their products. The study did not determine the amount of the chemical substance that might migrate into packaged fast food, however, it was noted that previous work did find that transfer or migration was possible. It was also stated that transfer is time dependent and more likely if the packaged fast food is hot or emulsified fats are contained.

Health-wise, studies of PFOSs and PFOAs exposure have shown association with kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid problems, high cholesterol, lower fertility, low birth weight, hormonal changes, detrimental developmental effects, and lowered immune response in children.


Cork invites readers to request a viewing of its new 2017 Cork Coatings Presentation. The presentation expands on Corks robust, cost-effective line of aqueous barrier coating products, and the drivers, sustainability and recyclability, affecting their use.

Improved functionality characterizes Cork’s series of FDA 21 CFR 176.170 & 21 CFR 176.180 compliant barrier coatings:
• Oil & grease resistance
• FDA direct food contact barrier
• Poly replacement
• Poly replacement- MVTR applications
• Wax board replacement
• Barrier with heat-seal
• Barrier-anti-Microbial

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Related Articles

Elmer W. Griese Jr.

Technical Writer & Educator

Elmer W. Griese Jr, having accumulated 35+ years of knowledge working in the coatings and printing ink industries has now authored the Cork Tech Talk News, newsletter since 1992 producing 112 issues. He remains dedicated to educating and illuminating technological progress that offers the potential to advance coating technology and its applications.

Elmer W. Griese Jr.

expert lab

Ask the Experts

We are custom formulators

We can custom tailor a solution for your coating needs, based on your requirements and equipment. 

We are a team of Chemists, Print Managers, and Coatings Experts. 

Let us help improve your finished product.