Detecting “Forever Chemicals” In Food Packaging

Monday, September 21st, 2020

The concept of “forever chemicals”—chemicals that do not break down once released into the environment—came as a surprise to many consumers at the release of the American legal thriller film, Dark Waters1,2,3. In this 2019 film, the real “star” might be the PFAS compound, or perfluoroalkyl substance, used in coatings to keep food from sticking to surfaces and to keep clothing free of oil stains. While some might ask, “How does this affect me?”, studies show that PFAS is present in the bloodwork of ninety-nine percent of Americans, and is linked to adverse health impacts, including liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression and cancer.4 Not specific to American consumers, PFAS is used all around the world in common household products like non-stick cookware and single-use plastic5, which presents a health challenge for consumers globally.

The global pandemic has greatly affected countless industries, but one particular industry is thriving—the food sector. As a by-product of this increase in demand for food products from consumers, the purchase and use of single-use plastics has skyrocketed.6,7 Takeaway products, shopping and e-commerce purchases are some examples.8 In the past, even though social norms pushed consumers to bring their own bags and containers for takeaway products and shopping at supermarkets, the possibility of contamination from the virus alarmed consumers into reverting to single-use plastics. Furthermore, certain food establishments now cannot legally serve consumers who use personal reusables such as takeaway coffee mugs, straws or containers9—all in a bid to reduce the chance of cross-contamination. Many have also stated that single-use items are the “most sanitary” option for consumers in this pandemic climate.

While the current pandemic climate has necessitated the use for single-use plastics, companies that produce and use these materials can ensure that PFAS residue on their products is monitored and controlled.


A reliable solution

To meet these demands, an efficient and accurate solution is required. The SCIEX X500R QTOF System enables quick and precise detection of PFAS levels in food packaging materials. Its unique MRMHR workflow uses high resolution MS/MS data to minimize matrix interferences and allow highly selective quantitative performance. Furthermore, it features excellent ionization performance from the patented Turbo V™ Ion Source, Twin Sprayer Probes and built-in automatic calibration system which enhances instrument robustness and achieves accurate mass information. The user-friendly SCIEX OS Software provides high versatility by combining both quantitative and qualitative analysis on a single interface.


Finding the right fit

By integrating the right testing equipment into the production line in a factory, manufacturers not only monitor and maintain a safe PFAS level in their product, they can also increase consumer preference for their brand as it is “safer” to consume. By deploying an analytical method to detect PFAS levels in packaging, SCIEX can provide the right testing instrument for a business. In particular, SCIEX’s products provide:

  • Higher throughput and less downtime

Your lab needs an instrument that can screen for more compounds in each analysis, without compromising data quality.

  • Enhanced sensitivity in negative ion mode

SCIEX instruments exhibit excellent negative ion mode performance that provides the sensitivity to detect and quantify low concentration analytes in challenging matrices.

  • Improved accuracy

SCIEX instruments have the dynamic range to see both high and low-level concentrations of common PFAS compounds, and the ability to confirm them by screening against our evolving MS/MS library of known PFAS compounds.


Creating a safer future for consumers

With the onset of the global pandemic, single-use plastic packaging has been making a comeback around the world.10 Its low cost, high durability and hygiene are highly desirable to manufacturers and consumers alike. Although labelled an environmental concern in popular movies like Dark Waters, the pandemic-ridden climate has necessitated the use of single-use plastics, and manufacturers need to ensure that this packaging is safe to utilize with consumable products.


Interested in learning more about detecting PFAS in food contact material? Download this application note:

Looking for an industry partner with a broad portfolio of testing solutions? Reach out to the SCIEX team at [email protected]