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Questions and Answers on PFAS in Food

<< Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

Is the food supply safe?

The U.S. food supply is among the safest in the world. The FDA is working to understand the occurrence of PFAS in the general food supply by testing for certain PFAS chemicals, including perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). To date, we have found that most foods not grown or produced in specific geographic areas contaminated with PFAS do not have detectable levels of PFAS. For more information, please see Testing Food for PFAS and Assessing Dietary Exposure.

For good nutrition and for food safety, the FDA recommends that consumers eat a varied, well-balanced diet. See more information on the Federal Dietary Guidelines website.

How is the FDA addressing PFAS in foods?

To better understand the exposure to PFAS from foods for people in the United States, we are focused on testing foods from the general food supply. We are also providing technical consultation to states, when requested, to help determine if there is a potential health concern for foods that are grown or produced in specific geographic areas contaminated with PFAS. For more information, please see Testing Food for PFAS and Assessing Dietary Exposure.

In addition, we continue to review available data to ensure that the limited authorized uses of PFAS in food contact applications are safe. For example, in the spring of 2020, the FDA published findings from our post-market scientific review and analysis of data from rodent studies on certain types of PFAS that are authorized for use as food contact substances. The data raised questions about the potential human health risks from dietary exposure resulting from these substances used as grease proofing agents on paperboard packaging (for example, take-out packaging). The FDA contacted the manufacturers about the safety questions raised regarding these food contact uses, and the manufacturers voluntarily agreed in July 2020 to phase out their sales of these compounds. For more information, please see Authorized Uses of PFAS in Food Contact Applications.

Should I stop eating particular foods to reduce my PFAS exposure?

There is no scientific evidence that supports avoiding particular foods because of concerns regarding PFAS contamination. Foods that are associated with areas of environmental contamination may or may not pose a risk. Research has shown that PFAS contamination in the environment where food is grown or produced does not necessarily mean the food will contain detectable levels of PFAS. This is because the amount of PFAS taken up by foods depends on many factors, including the specific type of PFAS and type of food.

How does the FDA determine if a food from a contaminated area is safe?

When states identify foods that are grown or produced in a specific geographic area of contamination, they can contact the FDA to request technical assistance. This includes analyzing samples but also assessing the safety of levels found, if any. We are working with local and state partners, as well as other federal agencies, to determine the actions needed to address any food safety risks and, if necessary, prevent the food from entering the marketplace if determined to be a health concern.

What levels of dietary PFAS exposure cause adverse health effects in humans?

Most of the research on PFAS and health effects is based on two types of PFAS, perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). There have been many studies linking PFOA and PFOS to certain health effects. There are, however, thousands of PFAS chemicals, and within this group there is a wide range of chemical structures with very different chemical and physical properties. The associated health effects for many of the different PFAS are unknown. Therefore, filling this knowledge gap is a top research priority for federal agencies.

PFOA and PFOS are often referred to as “long-chain” or “C-8” PFAS. While they are no longer manufactured in the U.S., historically, they were widely used directly or indirectly in the production of consumer products and PFOA and PFOS are persistent in the environment. For these types of PFAS, the FDA uses the EPA’s reference dose of 0.02 μg/kg bw/day as an appropriate toxicity reference value when conducting a safety assessment. The FDA does not currently have toxicity reference values for dietary exposure for PFAS other than PFOA and PFOS.

How is the FDA estimating the occurrence of PFAS in the general food supply?

To understand the occurrence of PFAS in foods, the FDA first had to develop reliable analytical methods to detect and measure these very complex chemicals in foods. In 2012, we began testing for certain types of PFAS in milk and later expanded testing to seafood and cranberries. In 2019, we were able to expand and validate the testing method with a diverse group of foods including breads, cakes, fruits, dairy, vegetables, meats, poultry, fish, and bottled water for 16 types of PFAS. We posted our validated method in October 2019.

The food samples the FDA is currently analyzing to understand the occurrence of PFAS in the general food supply are part of the foods collected for the Total Diet Study (TDS). The TDS is conducted on an on-going basis and serves as the FDA’s primary method of monitoring levels of various pesticide residues, contaminants, and nutrients in foods. PFAS are not currently part of the TDS. Results from the initial testing of PFAS in foods will be used to determine how the FDA will monitor PFAS in foods going forward, including whether steps should be taken to include it in the TDS, and/or if targeted sampling assignments are necessary for certain foods.

What has the testing for PFAS in foods shown so far?

As of December 2019, the FDA has conducted eight surveys designed to measure certain PFAS in foods generally and from specific areas with environmental contamination. Overall, we have found that very few foods have detectable levels of certain PFAS. From our recent surveys of foods that are part of the general food supply, the results of our first round of testing showed that out of 91 foods, two samples—ground turkey and tilapia—had detectable levels of one type of PFAS called PFOS. The PFOS levels that were measured in these samples were very low and are not likely a health concern. The second round of testing included 88 foods and showed that one sample—tilapia—had a detectable level of same type of PFAS. Again, the PFOS level found in the tilapia sample is very low and is not likely a health concern.

For publications from our previous work and data tables from our more recent surveys, please see Analytical Results of Testing Food for PFAS from Environmental Contamination.

Do the results mean I should avoid tilapia or other seafood?

Currently, there is no scientific evidence that supports recommending consumers avoid a particular food, including tilapia or seafood. Other types of seafood were included in our limited testing, and they were not found to have detectable levels of PFAS. As part of a healthy eating pattern, fish and other protein-rich foods have nutrients that may offer health benefits for children and adults.

For recreational fish, the FDA recommends that you check the state’s fish consumption advisories for the specific area where you will be fishing. Fishing advisories may exist that provide recommended consumption rates of particular kinds of fish from particular water bodies where local contamination has occurred. If you do not know whether a water body that you fish in is covered under a fishing advisory, call your local or state health or environmental protection department.

A searchable list of fish advisory websites maintained by states, territories, and tribes is available on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website.

Why does the FDA allow PFAS to be applied to food contact surfaces, like non-stick pans?

PFAS are a very broad group of chemicals, and they act differently under different uses. This is why they are found in a wide variety of products, including everything from stain resistant clothing to firefighting foam, and also are used in some food contact applications. There are several different types of PFAS that the FDA has evaluated and are approved for use in food contact applications.

Some PFAS are approved for use in the manufacture of non-stick cookware coatings. These coatings are made of molecules that are polymerized (i.e. joined together to form large molecules) and applied to the cookware through a heating process that tightly binds the polymer coating to the cookware. Studies show that this coating contains a negligible amount of PFAS capable of migrating to food. Similarly, the PFAS used in manufacturing of gaskets that come into contact with food do not pose a safety risk because they are also made of molecules that are polymerized.

The PFAS approved for use on paper or paperboard (to prevent grease from going through them) can potentially migrate to food. The FDA conducts a rigorous premarket safety review to ensure that the use of specific PFAS chemicals in food contact applications is safe. Due to questions on the potential human health risks from certain PFAS authorized for this use, those PFAS will be phased-out subject to the voluntary agreements. Please see Authorized Uses of PFAS in Food Contact Applications for more information.

Does washing or cooking remove PFAS from foods?

PFAS cannot be removed from foods by washing or cooking. The levels of PFAS that have been found in foods from the general food supply, however, are very low and based on the best available current science, the FDA has no indication that these present a human health concern.

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