Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a diverse group of thousands of chemicals used in hundreds of types of products. PFAS in the environment can enter the food supply through plants and animals grown, raised, or processed in contaminated areas. It is also possible for very small amounts of PFAS to enter foods through food packaging, processing, and cookware.
Because exposure to some types of PFAS have been linked to serious health effects, we are working to better understand PFAS in foods. Since 2019, we have:
- Advanced testing for PFAS in foods by:
- Making available the first single lab validated scientific method for testing 16 different types of PFAS in a highly diverse sample of foods.
- Optimized our testing method for use in processed foods.
- Extended our testing method from 16 to 30 types of PFAS.
- Tested nearly 800 samples of foods on the U.S. market.
- Provided technical assistance to states, including testing over 400 samples from foods (not on the market) grown, raised, or processed in known areas of contamination.
- Conducted human health assessments for individual PFAS detected in 174 samples, including from foods on the U.S. market and foods tested as part of FDA’s technical assistance to states.
- Analyzed post-market scientific data on certain short-chain PFAS and based on FDA’s safety concerns, negotiated voluntary market phase-outs with certain PFAS manufacturers, to be completed by December 2023.
In 2023-2024, we will continue to test foods from the general food supply, with the goal of accurately estimating U.S. consumers’ exposure to PFAS from foods. This includes testing TDS samples and at least two targeted sampling assignments—a second seafood survey of filter feeders, such as clams, and other bivalve mollusks, including oysters, mussels, and scallops, and a survey of bottled water. To expedite our testing schedule, we are taking steps to increase our lab capacity.
The results of our testing of the general food supply are summarized and posted throughout the year. If the agency finds that the level of PFAS creates a health concern about a particular food, we take action, which may include working with the manufacturer to resolve the issue and taking steps to prevent the product from entering, or remaining in, the U.S. market. For example, in 2022, two firms recalled products after FDA’s testing determined the levels of PFAS were a likely health concern.
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 only began in the last 5 years. The FDA has been leading the science in developing validated methods for testing for PFAS in increasingly diverse types of foods. We are testing for extremely low levels of these chemicals—in the parts per trillion. We have extended our testing method to increase the number of PFAS that we can test for, informed by scientific literature, and select PFAS based on their expected uptake by foods and the availability of the chemical standards to accurately identify their presence.
The FDA is also expanding our research effort by using high resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS). This will allow us to determine which additional types of PFAS, beyond those we are specifically testing for with the current method, are present in foods and should be included in targeted methods going forward.
Most of our testing of the general food supply is of samples collected for the Total Diet Study (TDS). No PFAS have been detected in over 97% (701 out of 718) of the fresh and processed foods tested from the TDS. At least one type of PFAS was detected in 44% (14 out of 32) of the TDS seafood samples and in 74% (60 out of 81) of the samples from our 2022 targeted seafood survey. We are planning an additional targeted seafood survey in 2023-2024.
For the samples where PFAS is detected, the FDA assess each type of PFAS for which there are toxicological reference values (TRVs). There are currently seven types of PFAS with TRVs. The FDA can then determine if the exposures to those PFAS at the level measured are a health concern for young children or the general population. For PFAS that are detected for which there are no established TRVs, health risks from dietary exposure are not assessed. In addition, at this time, the FDA does not consider the possible additive effects of PFAS exposure in samples where more than one type of PFAS is detected. As the science continues to evolve on establishing additional TRVs and on cumulative exposure assessments, our conclusions regarding the potential health risks of exposure to detected PFAS may change.
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
The FDA has authorized certain 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.
The FDA reviews new scientific information on the authorized uses of food contact substances to ensure that these uses continue to be safe. When the FDA identifies potential safety concerns, the agency ensures that these concerns are addressed or that these substances are no longer used in food contact applications. For example, in 2020, in response to the FDA’s post-market scientific review and analysis of data raising potential safety concerns about the toxicity of food contact substances containing short-chain PFAS with 6:2 fluorotelomer alcohol (6:2 FTOH), three manufacturers committed to a 3-year market phase-out of these substances and to cease all sales of these substances in the U.S. market by December 31, 2023.
For more information on how the FDA regulates PFAS used in food contact applications and the market phase-out and withdrawals of certain PFAS, including annual updates from manufacturers, please see: Authorized Uses of PFAS in Food Contact Applications.
State & Federal Collaboration
The FDA works with states to identify and assess the safety of locally grown and produced foods from areas with known PFAS contamination. This support occurs at the request of the states and generally takes the form of assistance with analytical testing, method development, and safety assessment consultations. 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, as part of our technical assistance to states, the FDA is contributing to research to understand how PFAS is taken up by plants, and how PFAS concentrations vary between plants and parts of a plant. This is an area of research that may help us make significant reductions in PFAS exposure from food. For example, by studying PFAS uptake, researchers may help identify plants that can be safely grown in contaminated soil without PFAS uptake to the edible portion of the plant.
The FDA has joined the government-wide approach led by the White House to further advance 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 Takes New Action to Protect Communities from PFAS Pollution (2023)
- Fact Sheet: Biden-Harris Administration Combatting PFAS Pollution to Safeguard Clean Drinking Water for All Americans (2022)
- Fact Sheet: Biden-Harris Administration Launches Plan to Combat PFAS Pollution (2021)
What Are PFAS?
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are chemicals that resist grease, oil, water, and heat. They were first used in the 1940’s and are now in hundreds of products including 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.
Chemically, individual PFAS can be very different. However, all have a carbon-fluorine bond, which is very strong and therefore, they do not degrade easily.
The widespread use of PFAS and their persistence in the environment means that PFAS from past and current uses have resulted in increasing levels of contamination of the air, water, and soil.
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.