From Farm to Fork – Tracing PFAS Contamination in Food

PFAS Contamination

In the quiet fields where crops grow and the serene waters where fish thrive, an unseen intruder has silently crept into our food chain: PFAS. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, have recently emerged as a pervasive threat to our food safety.

From farm to fork, PFAS contamination has woven its way into every aspect of our food supply. Used in various industrial products, these persistent chemicals seep into the soil and contaminate the water sources, ultimately finding their way onto our dinner plates.

In 2023, The Guardian revealed that traces of PFAS were found in three of the seven agricultural pesticides used across the country’s farms. This highlights how the pesky chemicals have found easy access to our farms, through both the soil and the pesticides. Join us as we trace the roots and extent of PFAS contamination in the food we eat.

How Do PFAS Chemicals Find Their Way Into Food?

PFAS chemicals sneak into our food in more ways than we might imagine. Having been used in everything from industrial products to household items for decades, and now they’ve infiltrated our food supply.

The journey of PFAS into our meals begins on the farm. Industrial waste and sludge, often laden with PFAS, are sometimes used as fertilizers, which means these chemicals seep into the soil where crops grow. As plants absorb nutrients, they also take in PFAS, which then make their way into fruits, vegetables, and grains.

Livestock aren’t safe either; they drink contaminated water and eat tainted feed. This leads to PFAS building up in their bodies and eventually ending up in our meat, milk, and eggs.

The threat to seafood is particularly alarming. PFAS accumulates in marine environments, contaminating fish, shellfish, and other seafood. Beyond posing a risk to human health, it also threatens marine biodiversity and the sustainability of our oceans.

Even the packaging that keeps our food fresh can be a source of PFAS exposure. Those grease-resistant coatings on fast food wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, and other containers often contain PFAS. Over time, especially when heated, these chemicals can leach into the food they’re meant to protect.

To mitigate this threat, the Washington Department of Ecology banned certain types of food packaging items that contained PFAS in February 2023. The list included food boats, pizza boxes, wraps, and plates.

Three months later, the department reassessed the risks, adding more items to the list. The newly-added items included flat serviceware, bowls, bags, sleeves, and open-top containers – like food cups and french fry cartons.

PFAS-contaminated Foods That Surround Us

By now, the pervasive nature of PFAS chemicals should come as no surprise to you. Let’s walk you through certain food items that are a part of your daily lives and could be contaminated by PFAS:


Who would’ve thought that soothing cup of tea, which many of us look forward to first thing in the morning, could be contaminated by PFAS?

Many tea bags, particularly those with a glossy or slick coating, contain PFAS to make them water-resistant. As the teabag steeps in hot water, these chemicals can leach into your tea, turning a healthy habit into a potential risk.

In a 2023 study conducted on 108 tea bags collected from the Indian market, it was found that 90% of them contained detectable PFAS levels. Considering the fact that the country is the world’s second-largest tea producer, this revelation is alarming for all the countries that are its consumers as well.

Dairy Products

Dairy is a staple in many diets, making it a significant source of potential exposure for both adults and children. But even the dairy is not safe from the threat of PFAS contamination.

Considering the widespread nature of the contamination, it isn’t surprising that cows are exposed to these chemicals either through their feed or water. And once the PFAS makes its way inside their bodies, the milk they produce is bound to have the presence of these chemicals.

The threat of this exposure also extends to cheese, yogurt, and all other dairy products made using milk.

Meat & Poultry

Much like dairy, PFAS contamination spreads to meat and poultry in a similar manner. When the animals are raised in areas with water or soil contaminated with PFAS, contamination becomes highly likely.

A 2022 Grist article revealed how elevated levels were found in cuts of meat from a local farm in Michigan. The Michigan officials called the incident “a rare occurrence.” However, several farms in Maine and New Mexico were shut down due to PFAS contamination in the last five years.

Processed & Packaged Foods

Fast food wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, and other processed food packaging often contain PFAS to prevent grease from soaking through.

Over time, and especially when exposed to heat, PFAS easily migrates from the packaging into the food itself. This means your favorite convenience foods could be delivering an unwanted dose of chemicals along with the calories.

Sources of PFAS Contamination

The contamination of PFAS chemicals in our food chain is a true tragedy. But how did these chemicals make their way up here? The problem lies at the source; and until that’s not fixed, there’s no stopping these persistent chemicals from polluting our food.

Let’s examine the sources of PFAS contaminations now:

Firefighting Foam

Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) is a reliable firefighting foam that, despite its stellar performance, poses the threat of PFAS. According to TorHoerman Law, this PFAS-containing firefighting foam has been used by airports, military personnel, and fire departments since the 1970s.

The revelation of PFAS’s threat is relatively recent. Ever since studies linking PFAS exposure and health concerns like cancer were published, the firefighter community recognized suffering from its consequences. Many firefighters also came forward to file a lawsuit against the AFFF manufacturers in light of it.

In a recent AFFF lawsuit update, a South Carolina federal judge approved a settlement of $750 million. This settlement addressed the claims of PFAS contamination from public water systems.

Non-stick Cookware

Picture flipping pancakes effortlessly with your trusty non-stick skillet – pure kitchen magic. But behind this convenience lurks a hidden danger: PFAS contamination.

Non-stick coatings, often made with Teflon, contain PFAS. When heated, they can release toxic fumes that settle on your food. Over time, scratches and wear can leach these chemicals into your meals

Paint, Varnish, and Sealant

PFAS chemicals lurk in paints, varnishes, and sealants, prized for their water- and stain-resistant magic.

Whether it’s a home improvement project or a commercial build, these coatings can release PFAS into the air, settling on surfaces or being inhaled. As they wear down, PFAS can leach into soil and water, sneaking into our food supply.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do glues and adhesives also contain PFAS chemicals?

Yes, glues and adhesives contain PFAS chemicals. These substances are used in adhesives to provide durability, flexibility, and resistance to water and oils. The adhesives used in building materials have higher levels of PFAS to improve their wettability and penetration of the substrate.

How can I reduce my exposure to PFAS?

Installing a water filter with specific PFAS removal technologies is your first step towards reducing PFAS exposure. This is because these chemicals have the highest concentration in the American water supply. Alternatively, you can also avoid eating packaged foods and purchase clothing and gear without water-repellent properties.

Can PFAS in non-stick cookware be replaced?

Yes. In place of using conventional cookware, you can go for cookware with ceramic coatings. These are made of natural and safer materials, offering non-stick properties without the risk of PFAS exposure. Cast iron cookware also provides a naturally non-stick surface, although most people consider it high-maintenance.

In summary, PFAS contamination is a sneaky problem that has infiltrated our daily lives – right from our cookware to our food packaging. From farm to fork and everywhere in between, staying informed and making informed choices is key to keeping ourselves and our environment safer from PFAS.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *