Do you like take-out pizza and Chinese food or other delicious but greasy fare? Have you ever thought about how well the cardboard and paper containers hold all that oil and liquid? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has — and it’s about to make sure that paper doesn't contain chemicals that could contaminate your food and possibly damage your health.

On January 4, the FDA announced its plan to publish a final rule banning three chemical compounds used in pizza boxes and lots of other food packaging.The compounds, known as long-chain perfluorocarboxylates, make pizza boxes, sandwich wrappers and many other types of food packaging oil and water repellent. But the FDA has decided they shouldn’t be touching your food.

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The rule comes in response to a petition filed by a host of environmental health groups, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Food Safety, Breast Cancer Fund, Center for Environmental Health and Clean Water Action.

According to the petition, scientific evidence suggests perfluorocarboxylates (PFCs) are:

  • Likely to adversely affect fetal and newborn development
  • Likely to adversely affect the male, and, possibly the female, reproductive systems
  • Likely to cause cancer

FDA says new data shows substances with a chemical structure very similar to these compounds are toxic. That means scientists can no longer be reasonably certain there’s no harm from food coming into contact with the oil-and-water-repellent PFC compounds, according to the agency.

In 2011 FDA asked U.S. producers to stop using the compounds, and they complied. But petitioners asserted the compounds were sneaking into food through imported packaging from China and India, according to an article in the Washington Post.

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The new rule will take effect 30 days after it’s published in the federal register, but objections can be filed as late as February 3.

Erik Olson, director of the National Resources Defense Council health program, hailed the FDA’s action. “The FDA’s ban is an important first step — but just a first step — toward improving the safety of our food supply,” Olson told Food Safety News.

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Diana is an award-winning writer and editor with more than 20 years' experience in magazine, video, book and digital journalism, with a specialty in health coverage. She was a longtime writer and news editor at the Center for Investigative Reporting; has written for publications from the Washington Post to the Times of London syndicate; and has served as a senior and/or consulting editor at Time Inc. Health, Hippocrates, HealthDay News Service and Reporting on Health. She was also editor in chief of Consumer Health Interactive, a national health and medical web site, and has reported on finance for Blueshift Research and PBS Frontline. Before joining SafeBee, she was editor of Bioenergy Connection, a national magazine about bioenergy at UC Berkeley. Her favorite safety tip: Wear a bike helmet.