PFAS contamination in teas, processed meats, and packaging

Dietary intake and longitudinal measures of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).


New research from the Keck School of Medicine of USC shows which foods and drinks might have harmful chemicals called PFAS. These chemicals can hurt our health by messing with hormones, weakening bones, and making us sick.

They’re tough to eliminate because they stick around for a long time. Tests have found PFAS in animals we eat, our drinking water, and the materials used to package our food. We don’t know exactly how much of these chemicals are out there, but this research is helping us figure out ways to protect ourselves.

Researchers studied two groups of young adults from different backgrounds. They found that those who ate more tea, processed meats, and food from outside the home had higher levels of PFAS in their bodies as time passed.

Jesse A. Goodrich, Ph.D., assistant professor of population and public health sciences at the Keck School of Medicine and the study’s senior said, “To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine how dietary factors are associated with changes in PFAS overtime. Looking at multiple time points gives us an idea of how changing people’s diets might actually impact PFAS levels.”

The new study, recently published in Environment International, shows the need to monitor different foods and drinks for PFAS contamination. Hailey Hampson, the study’s principal author, pointed out that even seemingly healthy foods can have PFAS. This suggests we rethink what we consider ‘healthy’ food.

The researchers studied two groups: 123 young adults from the Southern California Children’s Health Study (CHS), primarily Hispanic, and 604 young adults from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Study (NHANES), representing the nation.

Each person answered questions about what they ate, how often they consumed it, and where they got their food. This helped researchers figure out their exposure to PFAS from food packaging.

Blood samples were taken from all participants and tested for PFAS levels. The CHS group was tested twice, at around ages 20 and 24, while the NHANES group was tested once, at around age 19.

In the CHS group, those who drank more tea and ate more pork had higher PFAS levels over time. However, eating more food prepared at home was linked to lower PFAS levels. Similar results were found in the NHANES group, where drinking more tea and eating processed meats led to higher PFAS levels while eating more home-cooked meals was associated with lower PFAS levels.

Goodrich said, “This helped us determine that the associations we are seeing aren’t just true for one geographical location, but apply to people across the country.”

Hampson said, “Changes in PFAS levels linked to different foods over time suggest that changing our diet could affect these chemical levels in our bodies. Monitoring certain products, like drinks, could help find and stop sources of contamination.”

However, dealing with food packaging, which is everywhere, might need a stronger approach. In 2023, California’s Attorney General told food packaging and paper straw makers to say if their products have PFAS.
“That’s a good move. “Our study shows we need more rules like that across the country,” said Goodrich.

Goodrich, Hampson, and their team are now studying how much PFAS is in popular tea brands. They’re also studying diet and PFAS levels in a group of people from different backgrounds.

In conclusion, this study shows that PFAS contamination is connected to consuming certain foods like tea, processed meats, and food packaging. It suggests that what we eat and how it’s packaged can affect the levels of these harmful chemicals in our bodies. This highlights the need for better monitoring of products and stricter regulations to reduce exposure to PFAS.

Journal reference:

  1. Hailey E. Hampson, Elizabeth Costello et al., Associations of dietary intake and longitudinal measures of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in predominantly Hispanic young Adults: A multicohort study. Environmental International. DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2024.108454.


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