The toxic chemicals hiding in your ‘eco-friendly’ takeout bowl

It’s been years (maybe even decades?!) since I ate at fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Taco Bell. But fast-casual restaurants? That’s another story…

I’m a fast-casual aficionado. They’re convenient. Plus, they provide healthy-ish options, which means I’m ordering lentil quinoa bowls from Panera and sofritas tacos from Chipotle a little too regularly.

But here’s the thing…

Even though fast-casual food is a bit better than fast food, it’s still rife with hidden health pitfalls the average fast-casual eater may not know about…

Like the cancer-causing chemicals hiding in those “eco-friendly” bowls they serve their food in.

Chipotle, Sweetgreen and other fast-casual favorites serve up toxins

A new study from the nonprofit news organization New Food Economy found potentially harmful chemicals in the containers of eight New York fast-casual restaurant chains.

Some of the fast-casual chains included in the study were Fresh & Co, Chipotle, Sweetgreen, Urbanspace, Dos Toros and Dig. And the chemicals New Food Economy found? Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl chemicals (PFAS).

You may have heard about these chemicals before. They’re in everything from dental floss to furniture to fast food (and fast-casual) carryout containers. Unfortunately, they’re linked to a variety of health problems, including cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, low birth weight, fertility issues, and immune suppression.

The fast-casual containers that contain these chemicals are supposed to be eco-friendly. They’re brown, gritty and look less processed than other disposable take-out containers, which might make you assume they’re healthier. But not necessarily.

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Even though these containers are compostable, the fact that they contain per- and poly-fluoroalkyl chemicals mean they’re likely making compost toxic and contributing chemicals to our soil and water, according to New Food Economy researcher Joe Fassler.

And then, of course, there’s what they’re doing to your body…

Human studies on the health effects of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl chemicals (PFAS) show that exposure to high doses:

  • Increases the risk of cancer
  • Decreases a women’s chance of getting pregnant
  • Raises cholesterol levels
  • Disrupts hormonal balance
  • Negatively impacts growth, learning, and behavior in infants and children
  • Suppresses the immune system

How to safely scarf fast-casual food

So, if you’re a fast-casual restaurant frequenter like me, you may want to reconsider your dining decisions and eat out less.

When you do eat at fast-casual restaurants, consider eating in and ask for real dishware. Or bring your own dishware if they don’t have the real stuff. You can also bring your own Tupperware for takeout.

You might get a few strange looks. But it’s better than developing high cholesterol or (God forbid) cancer because you ate out of compostable Chipotle containers every day.

Whatever you do, don’t reheat your food in these containers. If the PFAS can leach into the environment, who says they’re not leaching into your food.

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  1. Chipotle, Sweetgreen bowls are linked to cancer-causing chemicals — New York Post
  2. The bowls at Chipotle and Sweetgreen are supposed to be compostable. They contain cancer-linked “forever chemicals” — New Food Economy
  3. Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) and Your Health — Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and