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  1. Process Contaminants in Food

Questions and Answers on PFAS in Food

<< Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

1. 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 with known PFAS contamination do not have detectable levels of PFAS.

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.

For more information, please see Testing Food for PFAS and Assessing Dietary Exposure.

2. 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.

In February 2024, the FDA announced that all grease-proofing agents containing PFAS are no longer being sold in the U.S.

For more information, please see Authorized Uses of PFAS in Food Contact Applications and Market Phase-Out of Grease-Proofing Substances Containing PFAS.

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

Although it is well documented that PFAS are present throughout the environment, PFAS exposure from food is an emerging area of science and there remains much we do not yet know about which types of foods are more likely to contain PFAS. To estimate dietary exposure to PFAS from the general food supply, the FDA has been testing fresh and processed foods consistently since 2019. We have tested a wide range of foods collected as part of targeted sampling assignments and from samples collected for FDA’s Total Diet Study (TDS). To date, we have tested nearly 800 samples of foods (718 of which were collected under TDS) on the U.S. market.

No PFAS have been detected in over 97% (701 out of 718) of the fresh and processed foods tested from the TDS. This may be due to several factors, including lack of PFAS uptake, lack of PFAS found in the growing and manufacturing environment, or the types of PFAS for which the FDA can currently test for.

For the 17 TDS samples where we detected at least one type PFAS, 14 of the samples were seafood, representing 44% (14 out of 32) of the TDS seafood samples. For our 2022 targeted seafood survey, we detected PFAS in 74% (60 out of 81) of the samples of clams, cod, crab, pollock, salmon, shrimp, tilapia, and tuna.

The data on PFAS in seafood is still very limited; however, our testing indicates that seafood may be at higher risk for environmental PFAS contamination compared with other types of foods. Except for canned clams from China, we have determined that none of the other PFAS exposures with toxicological reference values (TRVs) at the levels measured in FDA’s testing of seafood are likely to be a human health concern. For the canned clams, voluntary recalls were issued by two firms, and we are continuing to test a limited number of import shipments at the border and domestic products on the market. Filter feeders, such as clams, but also other bivalve mollusks, including oysters, mussels, and scallops, have the potential to bioaccumulate more environmental contaminants than other seafood types. We are therefore pursuing additional sampling of imported and domestic bivalve mollusks to better understand PFAS in commercially available seafood.

Research has also 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.

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. 

4. Should I stop eating seafood to reduce my PFAS exposure?

For consumers wondering if they should change their dietary habits related to seafood, we reiterate our recommendation that you and your children eat a variety of healthy foods, including seafood. Seafood provides many nutrients to support a child’s brain and immune system development. Eating seafood can provide several other health benefits too, including for adults. Eating seafood has been shown to benefit heart health.

For recreationally caught fish or other seafood, the FDA recommends that consumers check their state fish and shellfish consumption advisories. A searchable list of fish advisory websites maintained by states, territories, and tribes is available on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website.

5. 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. The FDA may assist with analyzing samples, assessing the safety of levels found, and consulting on methodologies for testing. We work 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.

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

Exposure to certain types PFAS have been linked to serious health effects, including but not limited to, increased cholesterol levels, increases in high-blood pressure and pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, developmental effects, decreases in immune response, changes in liver function, and increases in certain types of cancer. Most of the research on PFAS and health effects is based on two types of PFAS, perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). There are, however, thousands of PFAS chemicals, hundreds of which are used in a wide range of industrial and consumer products with very different chemical structures and chemical and physical properties. The associated health effects for most of these different PFAS are unknown. Therefore, filling this knowledge gap is a top research priority for federal agencies.

When the FDA finds a detectable level of a chemical contaminant in food, such as PFAS, the agency conducts an assessment to evaluate whether the level detected presents a possible human health concern and warrants further FDA action. The FDA’s approach considers a number of factors, including whether there is an established action level or tolerance, how much of the specific food people typically eat, the level of the contaminant detected in that food, and the toxicity of the specific contaminant(s).

For more information about the FDA’s human health assessment approach, please see Testing Food for PFAS and Assessing Dietary Exposure.

7. How does the FDA test for PFAS?

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. The FDA’s analytical method is validated for each type of PFAS. The types of PFAS the FDA tests for is dependent on their expected uptake to foods and on the availability of chemical standards (i.e., the chemical fingerprint). 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 and optimized this method for processed foods in 2021. In 2022, we announced that we extended the analytical method to test for 20 types of PFAS and in 2023 we further extended the method to test for 30 types of PFAS.

8. 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 as grease-proofers on paper or paperboard can potentially migrate to food. Following an FDA safety review, substances containing PFAS approved for this use were phased-out of the U.S. market. In February 2024, the FDA announced that all grease-proofing agents containing PFAS are no longer being sold in the U.S. For more information, please see Authorized Uses of PFAS in Food Contact Applications and Market Phase-Out of Grease-Proofing Substances Containing PFAS.

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