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Study uncovers concerning evidence of 'forever chemicals' in food packaging — here are some ways to avoid them

It's impossible to avoid them completely.

It's impossible to avoid them completely.

Photo Credit: iStock

Cancer-causing "forever chemicals" could be creeping into your food by way of packaging, according to a new study that looked at records from across the world.

What's happening?

A team of researchers looked at global records of food packaging and found evidence of 68 per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS or "forever chemicals," Phys.org reported. Sixty-one of these have been specifically banned from use in such packaging. 

The researchers found little evidence of how or why the chemicals ended up where they did, however.

Why is this research important?

Thousands of PFAS compounds exist, and this group of chemicals has been linked to adverse health effects such as increased risk of cancers, reduced ability of the body's immune system to fight infections, interference with the body's natural hormones, developmental delays in children, increased risk of obesity, and decreased fertility.

These compounds can be found all around us. For instance, at least 70 million Americans are exposed to PFAS through drinking water systems, and the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that this number could hit 200 million as further testing is completed. That's about 60% of the population. 

The chemicals can also be found in everyday items such as cosmetics, dental floss, cleaning products, nonstick cookware, and even food. 

What's being done about PFAS?

Because PFAS are so persistent in the environment, it's impossible to avoid them completely. However, you can take steps to reduce your exposure. 

For instance, research suggests that people who cook at home have less exposure to PFAS, as food packaging from takeaway containers contains these chemicals. To that end, you can bring your own storage containers when you eat out, which is also better for the environment. You can also protect yourself by transferring your food out of any takeaway container as soon as possible. 

You can prioritize purchasing products from brands that are PFAS-free. Walmart recently made this easier for shoppers by introducing its online Clean Beauty shop, which bans more than 1,200 harmful ingredients, including PFAS.

Meanwhile, scientists are discovering new methods to help remove PFAS from our drinking water. For instance, one group of researchers is exploring an electrochemical process that can deflourinate these harmful toxins.

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