PFAS chemicals detected in small number of common food items, but ‘results do not suggest that there is any need to avoid particular foods,’ says FDA

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Photo Credit: GettyImages / Adam Gault
Photo Credit: GettyImages / Adam Gault

Related tags Food safety PFAS Fda

An FDA survey investigating the presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) – a class of human-made chemicals – in nationally distributed processed foods found that of the 167 food samples tested, three had detectable levels of the chemicals.

Results of the survey showed that 164 of the 167 food samples tested – which represent major components of the average US diet including food items commonly eaten by babies and young children –  had no detectable levels of PFAS, while three food samples – fish sticks, canned tuna, and protein powder – had detectable levels of PFAS.

Based on the 'best available current science​,' the FDA stated that is has no scientific evidence that the levels of PFAS found in the samples tested indicate a need to avoid any particular food in the food supply.

"Although our studies to date, including these newly released results, do not suggest that there is any need to avoid particular foods because of concerns regarding PFAS contamination, the FDA will continue our work to better understand PFAS levels in the foods we eat to ensure the US food supply continues to be among the safest in the world,"​ said acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock in a statement​.

What are PFAS, and are they harmful?

PFAS are a diverse and broad group of more than 4,000 human-made chemicals found in consumer and industrial products and authorized by the FDA for limited use in cookware, food packaging, and food processing equipment.

The chemicals have become an increased public health concern due to their link to certain adverse health outcomes.

A study conducted by the EPA​ on laboratory animals indicated that PFAS can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in animals.

“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 this bioaccumulation of certain PFAS is developing, evidence suggests it may cause serious health conditions,”​ the FDA said​.

Better understanding exposure

"Through testing foods in the general food supply for PFAS, consulting with states in circumstances where there may be local contamination of foods, and optimizing our methods for testing, the FDA is making progress in better understanding dietary exposure,"​ said Susan Mayne, Ph.D., director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

Since 2019, the FDA has analyzed 440 TDS (Total Diet Study) samples for certain PFAS from four collections (three regional and one national). Previously posted TDS survey results were from three regional collections and included foods that are more likely to vary by location or time of year, such as fresh produce, meat, and dairy products.

"As we continue to collect and analyze the data being generated, we are in a better position to determine how to strategically and effectively work with our state and federal partners to reduce dietary exposure to PFAS."

Seafood survey

While the results did pinpoint that seafood products may be subject to increased exposure of PFAS, the FDA noted that the sample sizes are limited, and the results cannot be used to draw definitive conclusions about the levels of PFAS in seafood in the general food supply.

However, the results from the survey and previous ones have prompted the FDA to conduct a more targeted test of commonly consumed seafood in the US “to determine if additional sampling, either targeted or with greater numbers of samples of fish and shellfish, is needed,”​ the agency said.

“As the science on PFAS advances, the FDA will continue working with other Department of Health and Human Services agencies including the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as other federal agencies, including the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US Department of Agriculture, and the US Department of Defense, in addition to our state and local partners, to identify routes of PFAS exposure, understand associated health risks, and reduce the public’s exposure to those health risks,”​ the FDA stated.

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