A leading law firm suggests that restaurants should start planning ahead for possible bans on delivery and take-out packaging containing “forever chemicals” commonly known as PFAS.
Scientifically known as polyfluoroalkyl substances and informally referred to as forever chemicals, these substances do not degrade in the environment and are receiving increasing attention from lawmakers and environmental groups. This has led some government agencies to consider banning their use in restaurant applications.
In an educational webinar and through an extensive collection of resources on its site, Lathrop GPM provided a great overview of what’s happening with PFAS regulations, how it will affect the restaurant industry, and how businesses might want to plan ahead. advance in the large, widely used class of chemicals.
PFAS are a range of over 5,000 chemicals commonly used for their non-stick and water resistant properties, hence a high prevalence in the foodservice industry. They appear in cookware in the form of non-stick pans, food wraps and packaging liners and move up the supply chain in food processing centers.
According to the CDC’s Toxic Substances Agency and Disease Registry, “a large number of studies have examined possible relationships between levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the blood and adverse health effects. some people”.
The list of potential health issues is long and varied, ranging from liver problems to specific types of cancer. A new set of studies have found lower levels of PFAS causing health problems, according to Ally Cunningham, a partner at Lathrop GPM in the environmental and corporate tort practice group.
“Toxicologically there’s a lot of pressure that’s being applied,” Cunningham said. “There have been revised levels of health advisories that have come out this year and there are health effects that are attributed to extremely low levels, like we’re talking about potential parts per quadrillion levels.”
She said there were some challenges to the latest reports, but very real pressure from consumers who are pressuring their elected officials to do something.
“It’s in the public eye and it creates a lot of pressure,” Cunningham said. “People care more than ever, I think, about what’s in their food and what they’re eating. There are tons of monitoring websites that will post what you eat or sites that claim to let you know what is clean for food.
This kind of public scrutiny of what’s in the food chain didn’t exist 25 years ago when PFAS began to become a widely used chemical in the food industry.
As Matthew Walker, a partner at Lathrop GPM with a strong background in environmental law and regulatory issues, explained, the pressure is driving new laws that the industry needs to be aware of.
So far, 14 states have their own PFAS laws, but federal regulations are brewing.
“The biggest one is the Keep Food Container’s Safe from PFAS Act of 2021. This has gotten a little more attention and has much bigger implications, it would essentially ban the use of any type of intentionally added PFAS in packaging. food from 2024,” says Walker. “The definition of PFAS is quite broad, so it’s a pair of very powerful pieces of legislation at the federal level that, if passed, would have significant impacts on the use of PFAS.”
During the company’s webinar, he said more than 100 environmental and health organizations pushed Congress to pass the bill.
The move seems quite likely. Craig Miller, a partner at Lathrop GPM specializing in commercial and franchise litigation, shared some key things to think about to avoid legal and other issues as PFAS regulations and consumer outcry escalate.
He said any restaurant business should first take a close look at the amount of PFAS circulating in its supply chain.
“I think some of them are pretty basic, but they’re still important, but first you need to start by assessing potential sources of PFAS within your franchise system’s supply chain,” said Miller. “Look at where things come from in your supply chains that could potentially contain PFAS, whether it’s food packaging, your wrappers, your cups, your food containers, your cooking utensils, anything you might use in your system that might have some kind of PFAS.
He spoke directly to franchise systems, as that is his primary area of practice, but the advice applies to any restaurant operation, large or small.
Once a company knows where the PFAS are, companies need to talk to suppliers about alternatives, see what’s out there, and figure out what it looks like in budget, operations, and any areas that might need adjustment. He said the need to do so is more pressing for larger chains which generally have a bigger impact and deeper pockets for litigants.
“The major companies that are in the crosshairs of these class action lawsuits have already made the decision to start eliminating or phasing out PFAS from their use, either because initially regular regulations are underway,” Miller said. .
He added that telegraphing these changes and updates can also help brands avoid a potential outcry as public awareness of PFAS continues to grow.
Miller, Cunningham and Walker had many more details to share. Head over to Lathrop GPM for the full webinar and the rest of the company’s PFAS resources.
And don’t miss more discussions on packaging innovation and evolution at the Food On Demand Off-Premises Packaging Summit, September 26-27 in the Dallas area.