The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a report about how a class of chemical compounds called “forever chemicals” are impacting food safety in the United States. The FDA has found a disconcerting amount of the chemical compounds in meat, seafood, and baked goods sold in grocery stores. None of the products tested were subject to a recall.
The forever chemicals are a class of non-stick industrial compounds called per- and polyfluoroalykyl substances, or PFAS. These are man-made chemicals that are used in industry and manufacturing. They are called forever chemicals because they take thousands of years to break down and can accumulate over time to dangerous levels in human bodies.
How Likely are You to Consume PFAS in Food?
In gathering data for a report, FDA investigators purchased food from three unnamed cities in the Mid-Atlantic region. The FDA’s report of the chemical compounds in the food they tested showed:
- About 50 percent of meat and fish had more than two times the EPA advisable level of PFAS.
- Some of the baked goods, specifically chocolate cake, had 250 times the advisable level.
- Leafy green vegetables with PFAS at more than 1,000 parts per trillion.
The FDA also identified a forever chemical supposedly phased out of production (PFOS) in meat, poultry, shellfish, and hotdogs.
The term “advisable level” may be a bit misleading because the only existing government regulation of acceptable PFAS levels is the suggested EPA regulation for contamination in drinking water, which is a scant 70 parts per trillion.
Clearly, the FDA and other federal agencies are aware that Americans are consuming PFAS but there have been no definitive reports on exactly how these inevitable levels affect food safety. The FDA’s toxicology report merely drew parallels between high levels of PFAS in food and health problems.
What are These Forever Chemicals?
DuPont created almost 5,000 varieties of PFAS in 1938. These compounds were originally intended for use in nonstick cookware. Today, the compounds are found in more common items than you can count. The compounds are in food packaging, furniture, floss, and rain gear because of their capacity to repel water and grease. Firefighters also use the chemicals in flame retardant foam and consider it to be an indispensable tool.
Here’s where the “forever” designation comes into play. The compounds pass through organic materials through the food chain indefinitely without ever breaking down. Near military bases and PFAS manufacturing facilities, food supplies have a higher concentration of the chemicals because it has built up in the soil. It builds up in soil and water, fertilizes crops, is consumed by livestock, and eventually is passed into the human food supply.
Rather than any sort of direct application as would be the case for – say – pesticides, forever chemicals impact food safety because plants consume them from the soil. Animals or people then eat the contaminated plants, or people eat the animals that are contaminated through eating plants.
Do Forever Chemicals Compromise Food Safety?
The FDA’s toxicology review cited studies suggesting that people who are exposed to PFAS seem to experience higher than usual rates of:
- Liver Problems
- Low Birth weight
In response to the toxicology report, the EPA is considering mandatory contamination limits. Its current regulations are only suggestions. The administrator of the EPA said,
“We are addressing this much faster than the agency has ever done for a chemical like this.”
Clearly, government agencies do consider PFAS contamination to be a threat to food safety and are changing regulations relating to drinking water first. Several state governments and environmental regulation agencies have leapt to regulate PFAS levels in groundwater and drinking water, electing not to wait for the lengthy bureaucratic process of federal agencies.
PFAS compounds have not been so widely studied as other forever chemicals, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), exposure may:
- Delay growth and development in children
- Cause infertility or subfertility in women
- Increase cholesterol levels
- Compromise the immune system
- Increase the risk of cancer
The CDC’s studies have also shown laboratory animals have experienced liver, thyroid, and pancreatic, and hormonal malfunction. These tests may not have any bearing on what a human may experience if exposed to PFAS compounds.
Common Sources of Exposure to Forever Chemicals
Your risk of exposure to forever chemicals has everything to do with your geographical proximity to areas where they are most likely to be found, such as near military bases or hubs of industry. If you live in a high-risk area, your chances of exposure are a foregone conclusion, but anyone can be exposed by:
- Drinking contaminated well or municipal water
- Eating fish that swim in contaminated water
- Swallowing or breathing in contaminated soil or dust
- Using some non-stick cookware
- Using some stain resistant carpeting
- Wearing some kinds of water resistant clothing
The most likely consumer products to contain PFAS and pose a threat to food safety are food wrapping and packaging such as:
- Fast food wrappers
- Microwave popcorn bags
- Pizza boxes
- Candy wrappers
The FDA Wants More Data Before They Act
FDA researchers say the findings of the toxicology report do not provide enough information to indicate the best course of action. In fact, the report doesn’t give enough information for even a starting point to combat this ubiquitous problem. Total exposure is the key risk factor when considering a detrimental impact on food safety. Rather than having piece-meal information on water, soil, and food the agency says it needs data on the full picture of human exposure to these forever chemicals.
The FDA has indicated that isolated incidents of exposure are not enough to accumulate and cause adverse health effects. On the other hand, their test samples showed PFAS in the majority of the food available in grocery stores. Perhaps general exposure is widespread and inescapable. Perhaps it only affects a small geographic area.
The bottom line is if the agency has an inkling of the true scope of the problem, they do not seem to be ready to share it with the public at this time. This offers little comfort about food safety risks and the potential for contamination in the meantime.
Have Questions about Forever Chemcials and Food Safety?
Identifying food safety issues and establishing regulations is an often lengthy process. However, there are laws in place right now that protect consumers when they suffer harm by dangerous or defective products. That means if you have suffered harm as a result of PFAS contamination, you have rights.
Find out more about what you can to do hold manufacturers accountable for negligent contamination. Contact Bad Food Recall to speak with a food safety attorney about your situation. Schedule a free consultation by calling 877-534-5750, or click here to contact us online.