To reduce PFAS levels in food, cook at home

By Kevin Loria | Consumer Reports | October 9, 2019

Read the full article by Kevin Loria (Consumer Reports)

“People who frequently eat meals prepared at home have lower levels of PFAS chemicals in their blood compared to those who often eat fast food, takeout, or restaurant meals, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

PFAS—which stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances—are ubiquitous in our environment. We’re exposed to them through many products we come into contact with regularly, including fabrics, nonstick pans, carpets, and waterproof gear. But—along with drinking water—diet is a major source of exposure, and food packaging is responsible for some of that exposure, though we’re still learning how much. 

Known as ‘forever chemicals,’ PFAS don’t break down naturally and instead accumulate in the environment. At high levels of exposure, some have been linked to serious health problems, such as cancer, high cholesterol levels, obesity, thyroid disease, weakened immune system response, decreased fertility, and growth and learning delays in babies and children.

‘Our findings show that decisions about what we eat and where we eat can have measurable changes on our PFAS exposure,’ says Laurel Schaider, Ph.D., a research scientist at the Silent Spring Institute, a nonprofit that conducts research on the health effects of environmental chemicals, and an author of the study. ‘The more meals people ate at home, the lower their PFAS levels appeared to be.’ …

Schaider and colleagues analyzed data from more than 10,000 people who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2003 and 2014. Since 1999, NHANES has measured PFAS levels in people’s blood, and participants also answered questions about food they’d eaten over the past day, week, month, and year.

Previous research has shown that some fast-food packaging contains PFAS chemicals, and so Schaider says they wanted to find out if people who ate more fast food had higher blood levels of these substances…

The clearest finding from the new research, Schaider says, is that people who dined at home the most had lower levels of PFAS. For every 100 calories of non-restaurant food eaten at home, blood levels of five types of PFAS were 0.32 percent lower. 

However, the research team analyzed microwave popcorn consumption (often eaten at home) separately, and found that the more people reported eating it, the higher levels of certain PFAS chemicals they had in the blood…

The study authors say their findings indicate that food from restaurants, fast-food establishments, and pizza shops could be more likely to be packaged in PFAS-lined grease-proof containers. 

When people eat out, their food may be more likely to come into contact with PFAS-containing boxes and wrappings, according to Schaider, and those chemicals could be migrating into food, according to this study and previous research. The foods people eat while dining out could potentially be more likely to contain PFAS, she says…

Companies that make food packaging have been moving away from using PFAS over the past few years, says Peaslee. But even if burger wrappers and pizza boxes are becoming less likely to be a source of PFAS, some newer types of food packaging may still be problematic. For example, this year, in partnership with The New Food Economy, a nonprofit news website focused on food, Peaslee tested a number of supposedly eco-friendly compostable bowls that restaurants have started to use in an effort to move away from plastics. All of those bowls contained PFAS…

Because their use is so widespread, you can’t totally avoid PFAS, and don’t need to—some products we use that have PFAS in them don’t necessarily expose us to concerning levels of these substances. But ‘it’s a good idea to reduce exposure where possible,’ says Davies. Here are some tips for keeping PFAS out of your diet…”

This content provided by the PFAS Project.