Perfluorinated compounds and their derivatives are man-made chemicals that have been used in a wide range of products, including garments and textiles, fabric protection, furniture, and some types of fire-fighting foam.
There are three principal contaminants that may be found in contaminated food: PFOS; PFOA and PFHxS.
The scientific literature on the effects of these chemicals on people is inconclusive. However testing on animals has shown some effects at low doses. Health-based guidance values (HBGVs) have been established for PFOS and PFOA by a number of international agencies or bodies including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). The HBGVs derived by these agencies range widely, from 20 – 300 ng/kg bw/day for PFOS and 20 – 1,500 ng/kg bw/day for PFOA.
FSANZ work on perfluorinated compounds
The Australian Government Department of Health commissioned FSANZ to:
provide advice on appropriate HBGVs for PFOS, PFOA and PFHxS
conduct a preliminary dietary exposure assessment
make an assessment as to whether a food regulatory measure should be further considered as the most appropriate risk management response.
FSANZ completed its review and provided advice on appropriate HBGVs to the department on 31 December 2016 and recommended tolerable daily intakes (TDIs) of 20 ng/kg bw/day for PFOS and 160 ng/kg bw/day for PFOA. There was insufficient information to establish a TDI for PFHxS; however, the TDI for PFOS is likely to be conservative and protective of public health.
On 28 February 2017, a consolidated report was submitted to Health that included the report on HBGVs, the dietary exposure report and a risk management report.
FSANZ supports current at-site risk management measures by other Commonwealth, state and territory jurisdictions to manage and reduce potential dietary exposure from these chemicals, rather than setting maximum levels (MLs) in the Food Standards Code.
Whilst there is insufficient data to recommend a regulatory approach and set maximum limits in the Code, FSANZ proposed trigger points for investigation for PFOS + PFHxS combined and PFOA.
These trigger points could be employed by state and territory food jurisdictions when analysing PFAS in foods to identify when further investigation of a food may be required.
For example, when levels of PFAS in analysed foods exceed specific values (trigger points) further investigations or risk management action may be required but this would depend on the relevant jurisdiction and the issues at the particular individual sites.
In the 24th Australian Total Diet Study Phase 2, which analysed perfluorinated compounds in a range of foods in the Australian diet, there were no detections for PFOA and only two detections for PFOS out of 50 foods tested. The concentrations of PFOS were at very low levels (1 part per billion) and similar to those reported internationally for the same foods. Foods were sampled from a range of different retail outlets representing the buying habits of most of the community, including supermarkets, corner stores, delicatessens, markets and takeaway shops.
FSANZ is aware that the Food Regulation Standing Committee (FRSC) is discussing options to monitor per- and poly-fluoralkyl substances (PFAS) in the general food supply. FSANZ will contribute to the planning of a future survey if requested by FRSC.
Previous work on perfluorinated compounds
In 2015, the NSW Food Authority asked FSANZ to provide advice on the Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) for PFOS established by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2008, and on safe maximum levels of PFOS in seafood.
The request was made in relation to areas of localised contamination in NSW.
Based on a comparison of potential estimated dietary exposure to PFOS from consuming oysters sourced from the area of interest in NSW with the EFSA TDI, FSANZ’s preliminary conclusion was that there was low health risk concern for the general population.
For people who may consume large amounts of other seafood from the areas of interest, FSANZ found there is a potential to exceed the EFSA health based guidance value for PFOS for some species of fish or crustacea. However, this is not likely to be the case for the general population. Further research is required on levels of PFOS, PFOA and PFHxS in seafood and other commodities in the food supply.
Read the NSW EPA report.
The Food Standards Code
Standard 1.4.1 Contaminants and Natural Toxicants regulates levels of contaminants in the food supply. This Standard sets out the maximum levels of specified metal and non-metal contaminants and natural toxicants in nominated foods. As a general principle, regardless of whether or not a maximum level exists, the levels of contaminants and natural toxicants in all foods should be kept As Low As Reasonably Achievable (the ALARA principle).