Recent findings from the FDA showed there are toxic chemicals lurking in our food supply. PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), a group of about 5,000 synthetic compounds, are present in the blood of 98 percent of the U.S. population, and research shows our diets are the main source of exposure to these hazardous substances.
The FDA presented its findings from three studies on the prevalence of PFAS at the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry's annual European meeting in Helsinki earlier this week. The agency explained that these chemicals that have been widely used in nonstick cookware, contact paper, food packaging, cleaning products, and other industrial products have leached into our food and water supply, as well as contaminated our livestock and the sewage sludge used for fertilization. This is a serious problem as these “forever chemicals” are linked to liver damage, certain types of cancers, thyroid disease, infertility, high cholesterol, obesity and several other health conditions.
The FDA found extremely high levels of these toxic chemicals in various meats, seafoods and chocolate cake from grocery stores across the country. PFAS were also found in lesser amounts in several types of produce at farmers’ markets—including leafy greens, sweet potatoes and pineapples. However, it’s worth noting the leafy greens were grown within a 10-mile radius of a PFAS production facility.
While many PFAS have been banned from further production, their persistence in our environment is clearly having lasting effects. While the FDA traced PFAS back to water sources, fertilizer, livestock and certain soils used for our nation’s food supply, it doesn’t stop there. These chemicals are also often present in nonstick cookware and food packaging as a means of repelling oil and water—but at the price of potentially leaching into our next meal. If we’re cooking contaminated food on a contaminated surface, it’s just a double whammy for toxic chemical exposure.
The agency told CNN their findings will be presented on a newly updated webpage on PFAS later this week and that they are working to better understand the potential dietary exposure to PFAS due to health concerns.
The Bottom Line
This new research is quite disturbing, and it should cause us to be more mindful of the food we are consuming—and what we are using to cook it—whenever possible. It might be worth buying some foods organic, as studies have found PFAS accumulate in greater amounts in the edible portion of a plant.
It’s also worth investigating whether your cookware and bakeware were produced with these chemicals. Nonstick coatings (like Teflon) were originally made with a common PFAS that is no longer allowed to be produced, but the replacement chemicals may not be any safer. Check out this guide from the University of Calfornia-Berkely to help you make an informed decision.