Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a diverse group of human-made chemicals used in a wide range of consumer and industrial products. PFAS do not easily breakdown and some types have been shown to accumulate in the environment and in our bodies. Exposure to some types PFAS have been linked to serious health effects.
Through FDA’s testing of foods grown or produced in areas with known environmental PFAS contamination, it’s clear that PFAS in the soil, water, or air can be absorbed by plants and animals, leading to contaminated foods. However, FDA’s testing of the general food supply has shown that very few samples have detectable PFAS and those that do, have very low levels. We are working to protect public health by increasing our understanding of the potential for PFAS exposure from food and to reduce dietary exposure to PFAS that may pose a health risk.
Research, Testing & Analysis
Although PFAS have been in use for more than 80 years, scientific understanding and technical instrumentation needed to test for PFAS at very low concentrations in food began only recently. The FDA has been leading the science in developing validated methods for testing for PFAS in increasingly diverse types of foods.
Our ongoing testing of samples from the general food supply, not grown or produced in specific geographic areas contaminated with PFAS, has resulted in very few having detectable levels of PFAS. We are testing for extremely low levels of these chemicals—in the parts per trillion—and therefore, even when there have been detectable levels of PFAS, our safety assessments have shown no cause for avoiding these foods. As we continue to use the best available science to test for PFAS in foods and assess the safety of exposure to those PFAS that are found in foods, we will be able to identify what actions the FDA, growers, and manufacturers should take to help address potential exposure.
For more information on our testing method and approach to assessing dietary exposure and for results from our recent sampling, please see:
- Testing Food for PFAS and Assessing Dietary Exposure
- Analytical Results of Testing Food for PFAS from Environmental Contamination
Regulating Authorized PFAS
The FDA has authorized specific PFAS for use in specific food contact applications. Some PFAS are used in cookware, food packaging, and in food processing for their non-stick and grease, oil, and water-resistant properties. To ensure food contact substances are safe for their intended use, the FDA conducts a rigorous review of scientific data prior to their authorization for market entry. The FDA’s authorization of a food contact substance requires that available data and information demonstrate that there is a reasonable certainty of no harm under the intended conditions of use.
For more information on how the FDA regulates PFAS used in food contact applications and the market phase-out and withdrawals of certain PFAS FDA has identified as having potential safety concerns, please see: Authorized Uses of PFAS in Food Contact Applications
State & Federal Collaboration
As the science on PFAS advances, the FDA works with states and other federal agencies to identify and assess the safety of locally grown and produced foods from areas with known PFAS contamination. With states, this support generally takes the form of assistance with analytical testing, method development, and safety assessment consultations, and occurs at the request of states. The FDA has provided on-going assistance to states in their assessment of several different kinds of foods including crops for human and animal food, and animal derived foods. As appropriate to the food type, this consultation may be provided in conjunction with other federal agencies.
In addition, the FDA has joined the government-wide approach led by The White House to further advance critical progress on securing clean air, safe food, and clean drinking water. Through this collaboration with other federal agencies, we will work to identify routes of PFAS exposure, understand associated health risks, and reduce the public’s dietary exposure to PFAS that may pose a health risk.
For more information on the federal government’s approach for reducing exposure to PFAS, please see: FACT SHEET: Biden-Harris Administration Launches Plan to Combat PFAS Pollution
What Are PFAS?
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are chemicals that have been used in a wide range of consumer and industrial products since the 1940’s due to their resistance to grease, oil, water, and heat. For example, PFAS are used in stain- and water-resistant fabrics and carpeting, cleaning products, paints, and fire-fighting foams. Certain PFAS are also authorized by the FDA for limited use in cookware, food packaging, and food processing equipment.
The widespread use of PFAS and their ability to remain intact in the environment means that over time PFAS levels from past and current uses can result in increasing levels of environmental contamination. Accumulation of certain PFAS has also been shown through blood tests to occur in humans and animals. While the science surrounding potential health effects of bioaccumulation is developing, exposure to some types of PFAS have been associated with serious health effects.