Off the Menu: ‘Forever chemicals’ in fast food packaging poses a problem

Like nearly everything restaurants use in the normal course of business, the supply of food service to-go packaging has been adversely impacted by supply chain problems. Domestic and overseas producers alike are plagued by labor and supply issues; the now-chronic truck driver shortage continues to delay movement of packaging products from producers to end users.

Supply problems have become so frustrating that owners and managers are sometimes buying from Amazon or even visiting their local Walmart store to pick up needed disposables.

Now a new issue threatens to further disrupt the foodservice packaging industry — concerns over “forever chemicals.”

Forever chemicals, more precisely known as per- and polyfluoroalkyls, (PFAS) have long been used in food service disposables to prevent grease from bleeding through wrappers and containers. They’ve been dubbed “forever chemicals” because they don’t naturally break down or degrade over time.

Concerns exist in the scientific community that these PFAS can concentrate in biological systems and thereby pose a potential threat to human health.

A recent study by Consumer Reports looked at the presence of PFAS in wrappers used by major quick-service chains. That effort detected concentrations of the chemicals in levels higher than pending California regulations dealing with PFAS would permit.

two individual consumers have stepped forward to file class-action lawsuits, one against Burger King Already and the second against McDonalds, alleging “economic and emotional harm” from exposure to PFAS in the wrapping materials those two chains use.

Several major chains have already announced plans to phase out the use of “forever chemicals” in their packaging, but there is skepticism that the to-go container supply chain can adapt to such a change in a cost-effective way anytime soon.

More information on PFAS chemicals can be found at epa.gov/pfas/pfas-explained.

The National Restaurant Show, the food service industry’s flagship trade exposition, is gearing up for its first in-person edition since the pandemic began in 2020.

Scheduled for May 21 through 24, the National Restaurant Show 2022 will be held at McCormick Place in Chicago. Advance registration is now being accepted online at nationalrestaurantshow.com.

The Table 3 Restaurant Group in Sturbridge has announced its plans for Mother’s Day, May 8.

The Duck and Avellino restaurants will be featuring a traditional prix fixe menu with seating from 11 am to 4 pm Reservations can be made by calling (508) 347-2321.

Brunch will be the focus at Table 3′s Cedar Street Grill, with seating from 10 am to 4 pm The reservations number for the Grill is (508) 347-5800.

The Barn at Wight Farm, Table 3 Group’s function venue, will be hosting a Mother’s Day Brunch from 10 am to 4 pm Reservations are strongly suggested; the number to call is (774) 241-8450.

Panera Bread, which launched its subscription coffee program in February 2020, has announced that it is expanding that program to include all the beverage options on Panera’s menu.

The subscription plan, which Panera is promoting as the Unlimited Sip Club, is being priced at $10.99 per month. It allows program members to enjoy a beverage, either in-store or to-go, on a nearly unlimited basis throughout the day.

Panera reports they have found that the subscription program leads to substantially more store visits on the part of its members and that those members often add food items to their orders. The coffee subscription program was also successful in bringing in new customers.

Through May 6 those who sign up for the Unlimited Sip Club get their subscription free through July 4. Panera describes this grace period as giving guests the chance “to see if [the program] fits with their lifestyle.”

More details are available at panerabread.com.

Howard Schultz, the previously-retired CEO of Starbucks, has returned to that job on an interim basis.

Schultz has begun meeting with store workers nationwide as part of an effort to improve employee relations and combat the unionization effort at Starbucks. As of mid-April some 200 stores nationwide have begun the process of unionizing, with 16 stores already represented by SBWorkers United, a Service Employees International Union-sponsored entity.

Schultz has described the unionization effort as “aggressively sowing division” within the chain; he is promising to “rebuild the trust” with employees.

Starbucks has committed itself to publishing a plan in the next week or so that addresses some of the concerns frequently cited by those promoting unionization.

Irvine, CA-based Taco Bell, a quick service brand known for its menu innovation, is currently offering, for a limited time only, Steak White Hot Ranch Fries.

Paired with nacho cheese sauce and marinated grilled steak, the fries are garnished with a ranch-style sauce infused with fiery ghost peppers. Two options are available – the fries can be ordered wrapped, burrito-like, in a tortilla and they can be transformed into a meat-free option by specifying black beans in lieu of steak.

Taco Bell will also be bringing back a past customer favorite, the Mexican Pizza, which it had discontinued as part of a 2020 menu rework.

Made with crispy flour tortilla shells topped with beans, pizza sauce, beef, tomatoes, and melted cheese, the discontinuance of the Mexican Pizza generated social media grumbles, and its fans have continued to lobby Taco Bell to bring the item back, most recently through a Change.org online petition that gathered more than 200,000 signatures.

The Mexican Pizza is slated to return to menus on May 19, with several “early” deals available through Taco Bell’s digital marketing channels.

The Still Bar and Grill in Agawam, in conjunction with Back East Brewing Company of Bloomfield, CT, is presenting a four-course beer dinner on Thursday, May 12, with service commencing at 6 pm

The menu offers crab cakes with sundried aioli as a first course. Back East’s Summer Ale with be paired with the crab cakes.

A chicken and chickpea stew with root vegetables will follow while Back East Double Scoop is poured alongside.

Planned for the main course is braised pork osso bucco, a dish that will be served over mashed butternut squash. Back East Porter will be the accompanying beverage option.

The beer dinner will be brought to a close with cheesecake garnished with raspberry compote, a topping infused with the brew to be served along with dessert, Back East’s Cinnabon Blackberry Sour.

Tickers, which are $80, must be purchased in advance before May 8. Contact The Still Bar and Grill at (413) 304-2795 for more details.

The Depot at Graham Central Station in East Longmeadow, an ice cream scoop shop located in the restored Highland Branch railroad station, will be celebrating the start of its second season with Opening Day festivities on Friday, April 29 at noon.

The Depot at Graham Central Station answers at (413) 224-2188.

The Ranch Golf Club is hosting an open-to-the-public Mother’s Day Brunch on May 8.

The buffet is being offered at two seatings, one at 10 am and a second at 1 pm, and will feature omelets, a spring frittata, bacon, sausage, and skillet-roasted potatoes as well as fresh fruit salad, danish, muffins, and a Belgian waffle sundae bar.

Luncheon format options will include Greek pasta in feta cream sauce, chicken francaise, and herb-rubbed roast sirloin of beef.

A mimosa bar, which is complementary for moms, will be available.

Tickets, which include tax and gratuity, are $38 for adults and $19 for children ages two to 11. Tickets can be purchased online at theranchgolfclub.com/events/moms2022.

Reservations must be made by May 3.

The Log Cabin-Delaney House Group is offering Mother’s Day Brunch-to-Go.

The package, which must be ordered by May 5, is designed to serve between four and six people depending on the appetites involved, and includes country-glazed ham, chicken piccata, pancakes, waffle wedges, and broccoli cheddar strata.

Add-ons are priced a la carte. Among the options available to enhance the basic brunch are blacked salmon, Gorgonzola sirloin, and stuffed scrod as well as French toast, bacon, and sausage.

Orders for the brunch package should be place online at delaneyhouse.com/mothers-day-to-go. Pickup will be available on Saturday, May 7 from noon until 4 pm

The Delaney House answers at (413) 532-1800.

Hugh Robert is a faculty member in Holyoke Community College’s hospitality and culinary arts program and has more than 45 years of restaurant and educational experience. Robert can be reached online at OffTheMenuGuy@aol.com.

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