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Whole Foods Pulls Hot Bar Containers With Cancer-Linked Chemicals

A scoop of jicama cucumber salad, a helping of balsamic roasted tofu, and a serving of PFAS chemicals

A Whole Foods salad bar.
Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

Whole Foods won’t sell any food products containing high-fructose corn syrup, MSG, or artificial colors, but some of its takeout packaging apparently contains a wholly unnatural ingredient. Amazon-owned grocery chain Whole Foods is yanking compostable coated paper packaging from its high-end hot and cold food bars and bakery after reports that a large proportion of the company’s to-go packaging was treated with a potentially harmful, cancer-linked chemical PFAS. And all that wholesome goodness for the low, low price of $12 bucks.

The study, conducted by watchdog advocacy groups Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and Toxic-Free Future, ranked Whole Foods highest out of five major U.S. grocery chains including Ahold Delhaize, Albertsons, Kroger, Trader Joe’s for use of the coated papers, Bloomberg reports. Researchers collected samples from 20 stores across 12 states, for a total of 78 samples. Five of 17 items from Whole Foods — which literally keeps a running list of ingredients “unacceptable ingredients for food” — tested positive for high levels of fluorine, an indication that the packaging was treated with PFAS (p-fass). The four of the five samples were take-out containers and one was a bakery/deli paper, according to the findings.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl, better known as PFAS, is a chemical used in many consumer products, including food packaging as a repellent for grease and water. However, there’s evidence that these chemicals can cause “cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals” including tumors, according to the EPA. Several cities and states including Washington and San Francisco have already taken steps to ban food packaging treated with PFAS, while other regions are battling PFAS contamination in drinking water.

“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 states in a release. “We’re actively working with our suppliers to find and scale new compostable packaging options.”

Whole Foods Ranked Worst on Cancer-Linked Chemicals in Packaging [Bloomberg]
Whole Foods Removes Packaging With a Cancer-Linked Chemical From Its Stores [CNBC]
Take-Out Toxics: PFAS Chemicals in Food Packaging [Official]