U.S.

Whole Foods Packaging That Contained Cancer-Linked Chemicals Pulled After Study

Whole Foods pulled some of its packaging after a study found it contained a chemical linked to causing adverse health effects, including cancer. 

The market is generally thought to be a place where people invested in living a healthy lifestyle shop, but a study conducted by Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families found some of the retailer's packaging contained chemicals linked to cancer. The study screened five takeout containers from Whole Foods and found that four had a high fluorine content, indicative of Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs). One of the eight bakery or deli papers tested also had a high fluorine content. 

Kroger, Ahold Delhaize, and Albertsons were also included in the study and at least one product from the large grocery chains tested positive for having high fluorine content. Trader Joe’s was the only retailer without a high fluorine content in any of its products.

“Trader Joe’s is asking its vendors to avoid the use of Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in packaging for our products,” a Trader Joe’s spokesperson told Bloomberg. “In addition, Trader Joe’s does not have food bars or delis, so takeout food containers are typically not found in our stores.”

Between 12 and 18 products were tested from each grocery, which included:

  • Take-out containers
  • Bakery or deli paper
  • Single-use plates
  • Trays for cook-at-home food
  • Baking or cooking supplies

To reduce the flow of PFAS into food and therefore into consumers’ bodies, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families made several recommendations for retailers. Among the requests were that companies implement policies with clear, quantifiable goals and timelines for reducing and eliminating PFAS in all private label and brand name food.

Following the release of the study, on Tuesday, Whole Foods pulled all of the packaging that was referenced in the report from the grocery stores.

"Whole Foods Market introduced compostable containers to reduce our environmental footprint, but given new concerns about the possible presence of PFAS, we have removed all prepared foods and bakery packaging highlighted in the report,” Whole Foods spokeswoman Rachel Alkon told CNBC.

whole foods cancer linked chemicals packaging A woman walks past a Whole Foods Market following the announcement that Amazon would purchase the supermarket chain for $13.7 billion, in Washington, D.C., on June 16, 2017. On Tuesday, Whole Foods announced it was pulling its packaging after a study found it contained a chemical linked to cancer. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty

Alkon added that the company is working with suppliers to find new compostable packaging options to replace the containers that were removed.

Mike Schade, who works with Safer Chemicals, told Bloomberg that Whole Foods’s decision to pull the packaging was a “step in the right direction” but added that the company didn't specify the material they would switch to.

PFAS are man-made chemicals that have been used in various industries worldwide and in the United States since the 1940s, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The chemicals don’t break down and can accumulate over time, both in the environment and in the human body.

The chemicals are found in food, commercial household products and workplaces, and most people have been exposed to them. However, PFAS can have adverse health effects, and in addition to cancer can result in increased cholesterol levels and low infant birth weights.

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