Minnesotans should no longer need to worry about "forever chemicals" in fast-food burger wrappers or microwave popcorn bags beginning Jan. 1.

That's when a ban on chemicals in the PFAS family goes into effect for food and beverage packaging.

Some of the thousands of PFAS chemicals are commonly used, and still federally allowed, as a grease-resistant or waterproof coating for paper food wrappers, pizza boxes and take-out containers. Minnesota is one of 11 states that have moved to ban such uses in the coming year.

Minnesota's law is far-reaching, allowing no exemptions, no minimum limit for PFAS and no cap to potential fines. And it covers more than just packaging that directly touches food.

"The law applies to everything from the inks used on food and beverage containers to the interior or exterior blocking, bracing, cushioning, weatherproofing, tape, shrink wrap or strapping used to protect the containers during shipping," the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) says.

Similar laws took effect in New York and in California at the beginning of the year, giving many national chains and suppliers time to adapt to Minnesota's requirements. McDonald's plans to phase out PFAS in its packaging globally by 2025, and other major food companies and retailers are following suit.

Maplewood-based 3M, which pioneered the use of the chemicals decades ago in Scotchgard and firefighting foam, will stop making and selling PFAS by the end of 2025.

Still, businesses have worried there may not be PFAS-free alternatives widely available or at a comparable price for all elements of a food package.

The MPCA doesn't have authority to offer exceptions or a longer grace period — the law was passed in 2021 — and the agency does not offer a list of viable alternatives.

A Washington state report found there are several easy and cost-effective swaps to make, including wax-coated and clay-coated paper and boxes or reusable containers instead of plastic foam.

The 2022 report found that for five broad categories of food containers, PFAS-free options are "readily available in sufficient quantity, are comparable in cost and have equivalent performance to PFAS-based options," though Minnesota's law goes further than Washington's.

For the harder-to-find PFAS alternatives, MPCA officials say they want to help businesses quickly come into compliance — but made it clear that each business bears ultimate responsibility for making sure food packaging is PFAS-free as of Jan. 1.

"You are welcome to engage with us about difficult situations," Al Innes, MPCA's safer product chemistry coordinator, said on a recent webinar about the law.

Here's more about Minnesota's food packaging law and what it covers.

What does Minnesota's law say?

Beginning next month, companies and individuals cannot make or knowingly sell or give away food packaging with PFAS that was deliberately added and serves a specific purpose, such as an anti-grease agent on food wrappers.

Food and beverages are broadly defined. Innes said it means anything consumed orally that isn't medicine.

The law also give PFAS a broader definition than the European Union or Environmental Protection Agency has issued. For food containers, PFAS means: "A class of fluorinated organic chemicals containing at least one fully fluorinated carbon atom."

Manufacturers are allowed to continue using PFAS in their processes for the time being, which can result in some PFAS in food containers that was not deliberately added and was not added for a specific purpose.

Why are PFAS being banned?

The goal is to "protect human health and the environment from PFAS," Innes said, "not only by reducing PFAS in packaging directly contacting food but by reducing PFAS in the solid waste system."

The less PFAS in the environment the better when it comes to human and ecological health. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances can build up in a person's body and cause health problems such as increased risk of certain cancers, increased cholesterol and liver damage.

Already the "forever chemicals," which are called such because they effectively do not break down in the environment, are found in nearly every American's blood.

A state report found mitigating the existing pollution in Minnesota could cost up to $28 billion.

"It is clear we cannot clean our way out of this issue," MPCA Assistant Commissioner Kirk Koudelka said. "So how can we work on preventing PFAS pollution? Because it is the least costly and helps remove all those negative impacts we're seeing as we get further into management and cleanup."

What products will it affect?

Takeout containers, burger wrappers, pizza boxes, single-use tableware and foodservice items are the most common packaging products that use PFAS as a grease-resistant or waterproof coating.

The law applies to containers used by restaurants and foodservice operators as well as packaged food and beverages sold at retail stores.

When the food packaging law was passed in 2021, the Midwest Food Products Association expected its members would be able to find alternatives by the 2024 deadline. Hospitality Minnesota advises members to check MPCA guidance if they have questions.

What alternatives are available?

Some Minnesota restaurants have moved to comply with the law by offering reusable takeout boxes — such as sturdy plastic containers — or single-use materials that are commercially compostable.

Some compostable items do include PFAS, but those certified by BPI cannot have intentionally added PFAS.

There may be containers that comply with Minnesota's law that have unknown toxicity or have risks higher than that posed by PFAS.

A report from the Washington state Department of Ecology called out siloxanes, polypropylene and PET as not being safer alternatives, while wax-coated and kaolin clay-coated materials and bio-based plastic such as polylactic acid (PLA) were in several cases found to be "favorable" in terms of cost, safety, availability and performance.

How is it enforced?

MPCA will act on complaints and test results, Innes said. The agency can request documentation of compliance at any time and can work with the state health and commerce departments to enforce the law.

The public can submit complaints or other information through the agency's online form.

Kit Grayson, hazardous waste compliance enforcement supervisor at MPCA, said there is really no wiggle room in the law when it comes to getting information from suppliers and ensuring applicable products are compliant.

"We have to do the best we can with the information we have," Grayson said. "You as a company need to make sure your products and your packaging is PFAS-free."

Penalties can range from a warning letter to a stipulation agreement with no upper limit on how big a fine can be. Fines will be assessed based on environmental and health hazards, willfulness and culpability, MPCA officials said, but the ultimate goal is compliance.

"The MPCA and partner agencies are approaching the implementation of prohibitions on PFAS in food packaging in similar ways to earlier legislation designed to protect children and families from lead, cadmium, mercury, and other toxic chemicals," the agency told the Star Tribune. "Close collaboration with businesses to remove noncompliant products from sale and change suppliers are making those laws a success."

Isn't Minnesota banning all PFAS?

In 2032, nearly every intentional use of PFAS will be banned in Minnesota, save for products with "currently unavoidable uses" and medical necessities.

That ban is part of a separate suite of legislation known as Amara's Law that passed this year.

Starting in 2025, 11 categories of products will no longer be allowed to contain PFAS in Minnesota: carpets or rugs; cleaning products; cookware; cosmetics; dental floss; fabric treatments; juvenile products; menstruation products; textile furnishings; ski wax; and upholstered furniture.

Amara's Law does not alter the separate legislation governing PFAS in food and beverage containers in Minnesota.