Bring it to Barb

Barb Rock

Dear Barb,

What is PFAS that is used for fast food packaging everyone is talking about? What should I know to protect myself and my family?

Health Conscious, Not Paranoid

Dear Health Conscious, Not Paranoid,

You are truly prudent to be aware of indirect exposure, not just safety in food exposure!

Those plastic leftover containers or take-out bowls, wrappers with wax film may be a problem, and it can be avoidable or eliminated only if you know about it.  

PFAS, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, is a family of man-made chemicals that contain carbon-fluorine bonds. The bonds don’t break down easily, which is why PFAS are often referred to as “forever chemicals.” Forever chemicals are in the fiber bowls used at fast casual dining spots and other restaurants.

Much better are bowls made out of waste fibers – such as wood waste and sugar cane, which are made with composability in mind. But in order to make those fast food dishes water and grease proof, adding PFAS chemicals provide that leak-proof goal.

Unfortunately, when those bowls break down after being in contact with the food we eat, the chemicals end up in the compost. Because it doesn’t break down, PFAS remain present in our groundwater, soil and do not biodegrade, hence the nickname “forever chemicals.” It works its way through the entire lifecycle of anything it touches.

You are not paranoid because the chemicals are being investigated by scientists and government officials amid concerns over links to cancer, obesity, reproductive health problems, immunotoxicity and other health problems. We certainly have an uptick of autoimmune diseases lately. 

PFAS have been used in consumer goods since the 1940s. PFAS are now everywhere: drinking water, food, cookware, paints, water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products, firefighting foams and more.

Ask for paper or other biodegradable containers or only eat at places that use plates and silverware. Prudency gives you power.

Barb Rock is a mental health counselor and the published author of “Run Your Own Race: Happiness after 50.” Send any questions related to mental health, relationships or life issues to her at

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