Federal regulators indicate that certain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are chemicals recently detected in the American food supply, do not appear to pose a threat to human health.
In a press release issued on July 11, the FDA attempted to ease concerns that have emerged since PFAS chemicals were found food samples, indicating that most of the samples tested did not contain PFAS and the best available science suggests that the findings do not raise health concerns.
The statement came after a recent report indicated that the FDA has detected widespread PFAS contamination in the food supply, particularly in the mid-Atlantic states. Food testing positive for high levels included meat, seafood, and chocolate. Some foods had double the recommended levels.
In this review, samples of foods were collected for the FDA’s Total Diet Study in 2017 and analyzed in 2019. A total of 91 samples were collected. The analysis used new testing techniques, finding 14 out of 91 samples had varying levels of PFAS. The FDA indicated these levels should not cause health concerns, and the majority of foods tested had no detectable levels of PFAS.
“Based on the best available current science, the FDA does not have any indication that these substances are a human health concern, in other words a food safety risk in human food, at the levels found in this limited sampling,” FDA officials wrote.
However, the FDA did note that levels were high enough at one New Mexico dairy farm that it had all milk from that farm discarded and milk production from cattle there was suspended.
PFAS are a group of synthetic chemicals often found in food products. There are nearly 5,000 types of PFAS. Some are more commonly used and studied than others.
Because many of the PFAS chemicals are impermeable to grease, water, and oil, they are used in many products to make them water and stain resistant. PFAS are often used for carpeting, cleaning products, paints, and fire-fighting foams. The chemicals are also often used to make non-stick cookware and food packaging.
The FDA launched a review of PFAS contamination due to growing concerns about the potential health risks. Additionally, the agency is working to develop new methods to quantify per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in foods. The agency also established an internal agency PFAS workgroup which will work toward establishing baseline levels of PFAS in foods.
Accumulation of PFAS can lead to health conditions, including cancer, harm to the reproductive system, high cholesterol, impair the immune system, disrupt hormones, cause liver and kidney damage, and lead to developmental harm in unborn fetus and children, according to previous studies.
PFAS are widespread in the environment. High PFAS levels in groundwater and soil mean the chemical is likely to accumulate in animals and humans in the same region.
The FDA acknowledged that PFAS levels detected in food may not be uniform, and that more testing should be conducted to ensure the best testing methods are being used. The agency announced it plans to expand testing to analyze PFAS in foods commonly eaten by Americans.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are also focusing on research on PFAS and risks to humans to broaden the scientific knowledge of how the chemicals affect health.