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  1. Chemicals, Metals & Pesticides in Food

Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS )

Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS )

Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a family of human-made chemicals that are found in a wide range of products used by consumers and industry.  There are nearly 5,000 types of PFAS, some of which have been more widely used and studied than others. Many PFAS are impermeable to grease, water and oil.  For this reason, beginning in the 1940’s, PFAS have been used for many different applications including in stain- and water-resistant fabrics and carpeting, cleaning products, paints and fire-fighting foams, as well as in limited, authorized uses in cookware and food packaging and processing (referred to as food contact substances).

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. Typically, contaminated ground water and soil is limited to a specific geographic area, for example, near an industrial facility where PFAS were produced or used to manufacture other products, or an oil refinery, airfield, or other location at which PFAS were used for firefighting. It is through this type of environmental contamination that PFAS can occur in food, for example, food grown using water from a water well or on a farm in these areas. To a lesser extent, PFAS can also come into contact with food as a result of the limited authorized uses as food contact substances.

Accumulation of PFAS has also been shown to occur in humans and animals, as found through blood tests. While the science surrounding potential health effects of PFAS is developing, current evidence suggests that the bioaccumulation of certain PFAS may cause serious health conditions. Understanding and addressing this public health issue requires collaboration across local, state, and federal agencies.  At the national level, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Department of Defense are just some of the federal agencies working to advance knowledge on environmental contamination and potential associated health risks.  The FDA, in our role, is focused on generating, applying and evaluating the science that is needed to begin to estimate PFAS exposure from food.

To do this, we are:

  • Assessing foods for PFAS through sampling:
    • in foods from specific areas affected by environmental contamination;
    • in certain foods that may have an increased likelihood of PFAS contamination, but not associated with a specific site; and
    • in foods more generally.
  • Reviewing the limited authorized uses of PFAS in food contact applications.

Measuring PFAS concentrations in food, estimating dietary exposure and determining the associated health effects is an emerging area of science.  FDA scientists are at the forefront of developing new and more sensitive testing methods to measure low levels of PFAS in foods, and we are working with states to build capacity for local testing laboratories.  The FDA’s continued research and additional analyses of foods will help inform FDA efforts to identify and prioritize activities to reduce PFAS in human and animal food.  This research will also increase our ability to detect, evaluate, and respond more quickly to potential contamination issues involving food.  To lead this effort, in 2019, the FDA formed an internal workgroup and is committed to engaging with consumers, industry, and other federal, state, and local government partners in this process.

More on FDA efforts to estimate PFAS exposure from foods can be found in the Statement from Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless, M.D. and Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannas on FDA’s scientific work to understand per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in food, and findings from recent FDA surveys.

The FDA has taken several approaches to assessing foods for PFAS, including:

  • in foods from specific areas affected by environmental contamination;
  • in certain foods that may have an increased likelihood of PFAS contamination, but not associated with a specific site; and
  • in foods more generally.

It is important to note that while PFAS in food occurs primarily through environmental contamination, contamination in areas where food is grown does not necessarily mean the food itself will contain detectable PFAS.  This is because the amount of PFAS taken up by foods depends on many factors, including the specific type of PFAS and characteristics of the food.  Current FDA testing has found that most foods have no or very low levels of PFAS.

When there is evidence of PFAS found in food, the FDA conducts a safety assessment using the best available current science to evaluate whether the levels present a possible human health concern.  The FDA safety assessment method considers how much people really eat and the toxicity of the contaminants to determine whether there is a human health concern. For PFAS, the FDA currently uses the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s reference doses (RfD) for PFOA and PFOS of 0.02 µg/kg bw/day as the most appropriate toxicity reference value (TRV). 

When the FDA conducts a safety assessment, we work closely with our federal partners as well as with state and local officials to assess each situation and take appropriate next steps.

From Specific Areas Affected by PFAS Contamination:

Other Testing:

To ensure that food contact substances used in packaging, cookware, and food processing equipment are safe for their intended use, the FDA conducts a rigorous review of scientific data prior to their authorization.  FDA has historically authorized the use of food contact substances through a petition process, which would result in a regulation in Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations that authorizes this use.  Since 2000 FDA authorizes the use of food contact substances through the Food Contact Notification (FCN) program. The Inventory of Effective Food Contact Substance (FCS) Notifications is a publicly available database of all uses of food contact substances authorized through the FCN program.

Certain PFAS are currently authorized for use in specific applications related to their non-stick and grease, oil, and water-resistant properties.  PFAS may or may not transfer to food depending on the molecular structure of the PFAS type.  For example, the PFAS used in non-stick coatings on cookware and sealing gaskets for food processing equipment do not transfer to food.  However, PFAS used to make oil- and water-resistant coatings on paper food packaging have the potential to transfer to food.   The specific authorized uses for PFAS in food packaging take into consideration this potential for migration and these authorized uses are limited to ensure safe levels of exposure.

The FDA reviews updated information on food contact substances as it becomes available.  Should new scientific data demonstrate that authorized uses of a food contact substance are no longer safe, the FDA has the regulatory authority to remove that authorization. 

The FDA can also work with industry to remove from the market food contact substances deemed unsafe. This was the case when scientific evidence raised safety concerns about previously approved food contact substances that contained “long-chain” PFAS compounds. “Long-chain” and “short-chain” refer to the number of carbon atoms in the molecular structure of a subset of PFAS.

There were two FDA activities that helped to remove long-chain PFAS from the marketplace:

  • In 2011, the FDA obtained voluntary agreements with the manufacturers of certain “long-chain” PFAS authorized under food contact notifications to remove those substances from food contact applications.  
  • In 2015 and 2016, the FDA revoked the regulations that had authorized the remaining uses of “long-chain” PFAS in food packaging.   

For more information about FDA actions to remove long-chain PFAS substances from food packaging, please visit:

Newer studies suggest that “short-chain” PFAS may also pose a risk to human health. To study the effects of certain short-chain PFAS and their human health impact the FDA has been collaborating with the National Toxicology Program. This, along with emerging information from the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry will be part of the information used to determine appropriate next steps for the authorizations for the use of short-chain PFAS in food packaging.

Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) and Your Health, The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), The United States Environmental Protection Agency