Multiple fast-food meals in their packaging.
Photo: Nazar Abbas/Getty Images

Our lives have changed during the pandemic, and we’re only starting to grasp some of the less obvious impacts. For example, many of us stopped eating at restaurants and opted instead for takeout meals. In fact, 62 percent of Americans are now more likely to get takeout than before COVID-19, according to the National Restaurant Association. And aside from the sheer waste created by all those takeout containers, we now know that they could also contain potentially dangerous chemicals.

You may have heard of PFAS (pronounced PEA-fahs), short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. These chemicals can be found in countless products, including nonstick pans and waterproof jackets, as well as takeout containers. They’re linked to some serious health concerns, such as lowered immunity and various types of cancer. CR’s tests confirmed that some burger wrappers, salad bowls, and baking cups at popular chains and supermarkets contain concerning amounts of these chemicals. They’re also in our water, with one study finding that more than 200 million Americans likely have PFAS in their drinking water. Another CR test found that even bottled water can contain PFAS.

While we offer tips to help you to minimize your personal exposure, you can’t avoid PFAS altogether. What’s needed now is for companies to voluntarily stop using them in their food packaging. Our government should establish strong limits on their use. And consumers must speak out. You can start by signing our petition asking fast-food companies to halt the use of PFAS in packaging and by calling on lawmakers to pass the bipartisan Keep Food Containers Safe from PFAS Act.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring,” about the dangers of reckless pesticide use. The public outcry it triggered led to federal legislation and helped launch the Environmental Protection Agency. Six decades later, let’s take action on the next silent threat of PFAS.

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the May 2022 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.