Forever, No More: An Update on the Safer Food Packing and Cookware Act

Our state legislature is currently considering the Safer Food Packaging and Cookware Act, and I wanted to highlight why CALPIRG is urging lawmakers to vote yes. 

Sander Kushen

Former Consumer Advocate, CALPIRG

Our state legislature is currently considering the Safer Food Packaging and Cookware Act (AB 1200), a bill that would prohibit the sale of food packaging that contains toxic PFAS, require disclosure of toxic chemicals in cook and bakeware, and prohibit misleading advertising about chemicals in cookware. Passage of this bill would be a big victory for public health. With a vote likely in the next week or so, I wanted to highlight why CALPIRG is urging lawmakers to vote yes. 

P-what now?

PFAS is an anaycronym for a group of chemicals known as polyfluoroalkyl substances. Starting in the 1940s, they have been used in a variety of cleaning products, cookware, food packaging, and various other applications. They can still be found in microwave popcorn bags, Burger King’s Whopper wrapper, and many compostable containers to make the packaging more resistant to grease and water. 

But grease-free fingers are coming with some pretty devastating downsides. Serious health effects associated with some types of PFAS include cancer, liver damage, and birth defects. Pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers can even pass the chemicals to their babies through the placenta and breast milk, which can harm development in utero and long term. Exposure to PFAS has also been linked to decreased vaccine effectiveness, and may increase the severity of COVID-19 infections.

And because they do not break down in the environment, PFAS accumulate in our wildlife, drinking water, and ultimately our own bodies to the detriment of our health. This is why PFAS are not-so-affectionately known as “forever chemicals.” 

Despite the clear risk they pose to public health, PFAS are still used and found in CA. Given how long they last and what we know about their harmful effects, we should stop using PFAS as soon as possible. It’s not worth risking exposure to these chemicals in products or the environment.

The solution: Eliminating PFAS in Packaging

That’s why we’re calling on the California legislature to ensure that the packaging used for our food isn’t treated with this toxic class of chemicals. We’ve already seen states such as Washington, New York, and Maine take action to eliminate PFAS in food packaging, and California has the opportunity to be next.

While an existing law was recently passed to prohibit PFAS from being added to cosmetic products (a bill we recently worked on), this standard does not yet apply to materials that come into contact with the food we eat. Safer Food Packaging and Cookware Act (AB 1200) would change this.

And the good news is, making the shift away from PFAS is possible. Not all “conventional” food packaging currently in use contains PFAS, and we know there are also more environmentally friendly options that could be used as viable alternatives.

(As a side note, we are simultaneously working to get private companies and food chains to commit to stop selling PFAS-treated packaging. You can read more about this work here.)

The Safer Food Packaging and Cookware Act and How to Help

AB 1200 will help protect Californians from exposure to PFAS in their food every day, reducing our risk of cancer and other serious diseases. It will also help us push for bans on PFAS in products throughout our economy and move us toward our vision of a future free of toxic PFAS chemicals.

You can help by contacting your State Senator (you can look up their number and email here) and urging them to support a ban on PFAS chemicals by voting yes on AB 1200.

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Sander Kushen

Former Consumer Advocate, CALPIRG

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