What is PFAS?  

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals used in a number of consumer products. Due to PFAS’s resistance to grease, oil, water and heat, it has been used in food packaging as a coating on paper wrappers and containers that come into contact with food, such as fast-food wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, and pet food bags.   

Why are PFAS a concern?  

PFAS does not break down easily and some types of PFAS have been shown to accumulate in the environment and in our bodies over time resulting in concern related to the potential impact on health that PFAS exposure may have.   

What is being done?  

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized specific PFAS for use in specific food contact applications. 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. 

In July 2020, FDA announced the voluntary “phase out” by industry of certain PFAS used in food packaging and entered agreement with PFAS manufacturers to voluntary “phase-out” of certain PFAS by January 2024. Manufacturers and distributors are encouraged to consult with FDA regarding the regulatory status of any substances used in contact with food, including processes used during the manufacturing of the final food contact container.  
FDA’s testing of the general food supply for the Total Diet Study (TDS) has shown that very few food samples have detectable PFAS, and those that do have very low levels.  In 2022, FDA conducted a targeted seafood survey based on findings from prior testing of foods from the general food supply obtained from the TDS which found low levels of PFAS in a few seafood samples.  In the limited seafood samples tested, FDA found more types of PFAS and higher levels compared with the fresh and processed foods tested in the TDS samples. Based on the testing results, FDA determined that the estimated exposure to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a type of PFAS, from the samples of canned clams, which were from China, were likely a health concern. After learning the results of the FDA’s testing in their products, the two distributors of the samples with the two highest levels of PFOA issued voluntary recalls for all the canned clam products.  

The FDA has stated that they are continuing to gain a better understanding of the exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from foods and is assessing the potential health concern from exposure to those PFAS that are found in foods.  

Resources and Additional Information:
  • FDA Letter to Industry on Fluorinated Polyethylene Food Contact Containers (August 5, 2021) 
    FDA issued a letter reminding industry that only certain fluorinated polyethylene containers are authorized for food contact use. The agency took this step to ensure that manufacturers that produce, distribute or use these types of containers are aware of FDA’s regulation pertaining to the requirements for fluorinating polyethylene containers used with food (21 CFR 177.1615).  

In June 2022, EPA issued interim updated drinking water health advisories for PFOA and PFOS that replace those that it had issued in 2016 which were both set at 70 ppt. The interim updated health advisories are 0.004 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and 0.02 ppt for PFOS.