Food News

Whole Foods Bans Takeout Packaging Due to Cancer Risk

Image Credit: Jonathan Weiss/Shutterstock

There's nothing that quite says "I spent $18 on lunch at a salad bar" like those brown paper takeout containers from Whole Foods. And, as it turns out, in addition to tasty, health-conscious offerings of steamed and fresh greens, couscous, and that corn salad we love so much, a little smidge of a cancer-causing chemical came free of charge — at least until now.

Study Finds Whole Foods Packaging Contains High Levels of PFAS

Bloomberg reports that paragon of fresh and healthy groceries, Whole Foods, ranked worst in a study of five major grocery store chains for the chemicals used in their now-iconic natural paper takeout packaging. The Amazon-owned chain, which lost to Ahold Delhaize, Albertsons, Kroger, and Trader Joe's, typically provides these containers at their hot food bar.

The study was conducted by consumer watchdog groups Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, and Toxic-Free Future and found " Inc.'s grocer was the biggest offender when it came to food contact papers that appear to have been treated with a class of chemicals, some of which have been linked to cancer," Bloomberg states, and adds the study "found high levels of fluorine in five of the 17 items tested at Whole Foods — four of which were containers for its salad and hot-food bar."

The grouping of chemicals searched for in this study, typically referred to as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), refer to a man-made chemical that has a few applications, but is typically used as a coating. PFAS have shown in testing to linger much longer inside the human body via the food they stow away on. "PFAS are found in a wide range of consumer products that people use daily such as cookware, pizza boxes, and stain repellents. Most people have been exposed to PFAS," states the CDC (not worrying in the slightest!).

Certain PFAS can accumulate and stay in the human body for long periods of time, and the worry is that these chemicals can do much harm by interfering with your immune system, wreaking havoc on kidney or liver function, or causing cancer.

Obviously, as soon as they learned of this revelation about their packaging, Whole Foods stepped in and banned all of their compostable containers using PFAS.

Whole Foods Removes Containers in Light of Study

"Whole Foods Market introduced compostable containers to reduce our environmental footprint, but given new concerns about the possible presence of PFAS, we have removed all prepared foods and bakery packaging highlighted in the report," the company said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg. "We're actively working with our suppliers to find and scale new compostable packaging options."

For Whole Foods' part, they do have a history of banning many, many more chemicals than typical grocery stores from acetone to unnaturally produced vanillin. Still, it makes you wonder: If Whole Foods was able to miss this extremely dangerous-sounding chemical, where else are these PFAS chilling out?