WASHINGTON – The Food and Drug Administration’s release today of tests for the presence of the “forever chemicals” known as PFAS in food once again downplays the risks that the substances pose to consumers, with findings that ignore potential exposures.
After assessing 167 processed foods, including peanut butter, baby food, chips, cereal and more, the FDA says it did not detect PFAS in 164 of the sampled items.
But the FDA’s testing methodology applied a “limit of detection” – the minimum amount of a substance that can confidently be reported as greater than zero – that likely conceals the presence of PFAS in food. If the FDA had used a lower detection limit, PFAS contamination of food would be expected to be common and easily detected.
And the FDA continues to ignore other routes of exposure to PFAS, such as drinking water, when advising consumers about the risks posed by the chemicals in their food.
“Consumers are exposed to PFAS in their water, their food and through household goods,” said Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs. “But FDA continues to ignore all of these routes of exposure when providing advice to consumers.”
“PFAS are incredibly toxic at low concentrations and these chemicals are ubiquitous in our environment and in our bodies,” said EWG Senior Scientist David Andrews, Ph.D. “Food is suspected of being a major source of exposure to PFAS compounds. We urgently need more comprehensive testing of our food supply with lower detection limits and the ability to identify all PFAS compounds.”
PFAS are a large group of chemicals that cause increased risk of cancer, harm to fetal development and reduced vaccine effectiveness. They are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment and they build up in our blood and organs.
In June, EWG and other organizations petitioned the FDA to end all uses of PFAS in food packaging. In particular, the groups urged FDA to consider all routes of exposure to PFAS when considering whether the chemicals are safe for use in food.
“The law requires FDA to demonstrate that the use of PFAS in food packaging poses a reasonable certainty of no harm,” Faber said. “The science clearly demonstrates that PFAS pose a significant risk of harm. It’s hard to see how FDA continues to believe some uses of PFAS meet the legal standard set by Congress more than 60 years ago.”
Fluorine is a chemical that indicates the presence of PFAS. The FDA approved the use of fluorinated food containers in 1983, but there is no evidence the agency has reviewed either the safety of these containers or studies measuring the amount of PFAS from these containers that may contaminate food.
Environmental Protection Agency tests of similar containers used for storing pesticides found significant PFAS migration from the containers.
Between 2002 and 2016, the FDA approved 19 PFAS for use in food packaging. Collaborating with the EPA, non-governmental organizations and academic colleagues, EWG found nearly half of fast food wrappers collected in 2014 and 2015 had detectable levels of PFAS.
In 2020, the FDA announced that manufacturers of 15 different approved types of food packaging using PFAS would phase out all ongoing uses. But the FDA has not yet banned all PFAS from food packaging.
More than a dozen states have adopted policies or regulations limiting the use of PFAS in food packaging and many more are considering taking similar steps. California is considering legislation to ban PFAS from plant-based food packaging.
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action. Visit www.ewg.org for more information.