PFAS: how these manufactured chemicals can get in food

PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) is a group of manufactured chemicals. Foods exposed to PFAS are a potential health risk. Find out about PFAS.

About PFAS

PFAS is an acronym for a group of manufactured chemicals. They are resistant to water, oil, and heat. They have been used to make a range of products such as:

  • household items
  • personal care products
  • cleaning products
  • industrial products including metal plating and firefighting foam.

PFAS in food

Some PFAS can accumulate in foods like meat, fish, and eggs.

Foods exposed to PFAS can be a potential health risk if eaten consistently over time. Potential health effects are still being studied, but high exposure could have negative health effects such as:

  • changes in liver, thyroid, and pancreatic function
  • changes to hormone levels.

Exposure levels in New Zealand are low. There is no consistent evidence that these levels of exposure are harmful to health.

Where PFAS are found

Sites with PFAS contamination can affect nearby areas of food production. PFAS in soil and water can end up in food.

In New Zealand, PFAS have been detected in some airbase sites in New Zealand. In November 2017, elevated levels of PFAS were found at the Ohakea and Woodbourne airbases. Historic use of firefighting foams caused these higher levels.

Elevated PFAS levels have since been identified at a number of other sites.

No PFAS found in tests on farms near Ohakea base

In late 2017, New Zealand Food Safety tested for PFAS in farms close to the Ohakea base. None were detected above the laboratory's reporting limits. New Zealand Food Safety concluded that food safety risks to the public were unlikely.

Survey for PFAS in the general food supply

In 2018, a survey looked for PFAS in a range of foods purchased from supermarkets and grocery stores. The testing found only one sample where a PFAS compound was detected.

New Zealand Food Safety assessed the food safety risk to the public as minimal.

Per- and Poly- Fluorinated Alkyl Substances (PFAS) in selected New Zealand foods – Survey report

Who to contact

If you have questions about PFAS, email info@mpi.govt.nz

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