One of the bright spots of 2020 was that it was a productive year for health and safety innovation and improvement within the restaurant industry. Newly developed disinfectants can eliminate viruses such as Covid-19 more effectively than ever before, while new protocols, mandates and initiatives aimed at reducing the spread have proven incredibly effective. However, those in the industry must not succumb to tunnel vision.
Other areas such as sustainability, health, and even different varieties of safety must not be neglected in the name of Covid-focused efforts. Thankfully, organizations such as Mind the Store are here to help. Focused on eliminating toxic chemicals in food products and packaging and developing safer and more comprehensive chemical policies, Mind the Store remains ever vigilant in their charge of keeping consumers safe.
That vigilance led to last month’s announcement from McDonald’s that it will remove all added fluorinated compounds from their guest packaging materials globally by 2025. This follows a national campaign led by the Mind the Store campaign and partners in key cities and states across the country after test results indicated the use of PFAS in packaging for the widely sold Big Mac.
“We’ve always believed that major retailers, and specifically large restaurant chains such as McDonald’s, have a fundamental responsibility to ensure that their products and packaging are safe, healthy, and don’t contain hazardous chemicals. Particularly at a time when the FDA has failed to meaningfully do so”, stated Mike Schade, a representative of Mind the Store.
Many large retailers utilize a specific set of chemicals, known collectively as PFAS chemicals, to enhance their products with properties such as grease resistance. PFAS stands for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances and are manufactured chemicals used in products that resist heat, oil, stains and water.
Members of this subset, consisting of over one thousand different substances, are commonly found in everything from paper products to molded fiber, and are very pervasive throughout the industry. “The problem with these chemicals is twofold,” said Schade. “They are both extremely hazardous to people, having been linked to everything from cancer to infertility, and have an incredibly long lifespan. Although the product made with these PFAS chemicals might decompose over time, the chemicals themselves don’t and theoretically can reside in the environment for thousands of years. What this means is that they diffuse both into the earth and into the food they come into contact with, gradually infecting more and more people.
Furthermore, recent studies have even shown that exposure to PFAS chemicals can increase one’s vulnerability to Covid-19. “PFAS chemicals’ tendency to decrease antibody responses to vaccines means that use of these chemicals is especially egregious in this current period. In a time when more and more people are ordering takeout with the express intent of reducing their exposure to the virus, the last thing we want to be doing is delivering the risk right to their doors,” mentioned Schade.
Although it’s one thing to identify and condemn the use of these chemicals in products, it’s another thing entirely for operators to find suitable replacements for them that fit their budgets. Thankfully, Mind the Store has compiled several databases of vetted companies that offer both safe, sustainable packaging and reasonable pricing. “Every company we promote has undergone rigorous testing, and we’ve made sure that every option is affordable and flexible because we know how hard it is in these times for businesses to make large changes,” said the Mind the Store representative.
Not only should operators be looking to provide safe products for the wellbeing of their customers, these types of implementations are also sure to set any business who makes them well apart from their competition. Consumer concern over health and safety has skyrocketed over the last year. Many operators fail to realize that this awareness extends beyond Covid-related issues, and that food and food product contamination is just as unappetizing in the eyes of the customer. Making a visible effort to put consumer well-being first, in every regard, will undoubtedly draw customers to a business. Businesses that don’t will be shooting themselves in the foot. The emphasis a business puts on health and safety is directly indicative of its regard for their customers, and is something that is immediately apparent.
Even though Mind the Store has only been active since 2013, it has already made waves, proving that even titans such as McDonald’s should be held accountable when it comes to the well-being of consumers. Mind the Store doesn’t plan on stopping there however, and stands ready to continue working to transform the marketplace and to keep helping businesses meet the rising consumer demand for transparency and safe, healthy products.