PFAS can enter the food chain through environmental contamination or through migration from food packaging. Typically, environmental contamination is limited to a specific geographic area, for example, near an industrial facility where PFAS are produced or used to manufacture other products, or an oil refinery, airfield or other location where PFAS-containing products are used for firefighting. PFAS can also enter the environment through discarded products in landfills. The use of soil, water, or biosolids contaminated with PFAS to grow crops, feed animals intended for food, or raise fish or other seafood, can lead to PFAS entering the food supply. The specific types of PFAS that can migrate to food from food packaging go through a safety assessment before they enter the market to ensure that exposure levels from their intended use are very low and do not pose a health risk. For more information, please visit Authorized Uses of PFAS in Food Contact Applications.
Testing for PFAS in Food
FDA scientists are at the forefront of developing new and more sensitive testing methods to measure low levels of PFAS concentrations in food. Since 2012, the FDA has been refining the analytical method to test food for PFAS by testing specific groups of food, as well as focusing testing efforts on foods grown or produced in areas associated with environmental PFAS contamination.
In 2019, the FDA expanded the methods used in earlier testing and made available the first single-lab validated scientific method for testing 16 different types of PFAS in a highly diverse sample of foods. This method is being used to continue testing foods from the general food supply and in our work supporting states in assessing the safety of human and animal food from specific areas potentially affected by environmental contamination.
For the scientific method, please visit: Determination of 16 Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Food using Liquid Chromatography-Tandem Mass Spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) (Version 2019).
Assessing Dietary Exposure to PFAS
The FDA has been working to better understand if food, that isn’t grown or produced in specific areas with known environmental contamination, is a significant source of exposure to PFAS for U.S. consumers. To assess dietary exposure to PFAS, in 2019, FDA researchers analyzed foods originally collected as part of the FDA’s FY2018 Total Diet Study (TDS). TDS foods are purchased at grocery stores and represent the broad range of foods—breads, dairy, produce, meat, fish, poultry, etc.—the average U.S. consumer might eat. Out of 179 samples analyzed, three were found to have detectable levels of PFAS. Based on the best available current science, the levels found in the limited sampling are not considered to be a human health concern.
The FDA will continue to analyze additional samples from the general food supply that, along with earlier testing results, will help inform the agency’s risk-based approach to identifying, prioritizing, and implementing FDA activities to reduce exposure to PFAS from human and animal food.
In addition to assessing potential dietary exposure to PFAS from foods in the general food supply, the FDA also assesses the potential dietary exposure to PFAS from human and animal food grown or produced in areas with known PFAS contamination. These assessments generally occur at the request of states and before the food enters the market. Previous analyses by the FDA have shown that PFAS contamination in the environment 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 crops depends on many factors, including the specific type of PFAS and characteristics of the food.
When there are detectable levels of PFAS 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 used for chemical contaminants, including PFAS, considers how much people typically eat of the specific food, the level of the contaminant detected in that food, and the toxicity of the specific contaminant(s). When analyzing food that may contain PFAS because of environmental contamination, the FDA has used the Environmental Protection Agency’s reference doses (RfD) for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), of 0.02 μg/kg bw/day as an appropriate toxicity reference value (TRV) to evaluate results for PFOA and PFOS found in food. This focus on PFOA and PFOS is because they are the two types of PFAS that have been produced in the largest quantities in the U.S. and are among the most studied. As new science emerges, the FDA will adopt new and updated TRVs to reflect the best available science.
Throughout the evaluation process, the FDA works closely with state and local officials, as well as our federal partners, to assess each situation and take appropriate next steps. When levels of PFAS in foods are determined to be a human health concern, the FDA takes steps to ensure the food does not enter the market.