Perfluoroalkylated substances (PFASs) are a large group of compounds consisting of a fully or partially fluorinated hydrophobic alkyl chain and a hydrophilic end group. They were manufactured for over 50 years and are still used in a broad spectrum of products and processes. Due to their thermal and chemical stability and surface activity, they are widely used in various products e.g. cleaning agents, paint and varnish, wax, floor polishing agents, impregnation agents for textiles, carpets, paper, packaging, furniture, shoes, fire-extinguishing liquids, photo paper and insecticide formulations. This has lead to a global distribution of PFASs into the environment and the human body, thus raising public health concern.
Negative health effects as hepatotoxicity, developmental toxicity, neurobehavioral toxicity, immunotoxicity, reproductive toxicity, lung toxicity, hormonal effects and a weak genotoxic and carcinogenic potential have been described in animal studies in relation to PFASs.
In 2008, in its Scientific Opinion on perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), the EFSA Panel on Contaminants in the food chain recommended that more PFASs occurrence data in different foodstuffs and human body should be collected, particularly with respect to exposure assessment. The European Commission issued the Recommendation 2010/161/EU on the monitoring of perfluoroalkylated substances in food. Member States were recommended to monitor during 2010 and 2011 the presence of PFASs in food and submit to EFSA the data obtained together with data from previous years. These data are needed by the Commission as a basis for deciding on any possible risk management measures.
In 2010, data from previous years were submitted to EFSA. The present evaluation is based on a set of 4,881 samples collected between 2000 and 2009 in seven Member States. Data were reported on different sets of compounds from a total of 17 PFASs resulting in 24,204 single analytical results. All results were expressed in µg/kg whole weight (wet weight). Most of the LOQs (79 %) reported for each of the 17 compounds across all food groups were below or equal to the value recommended by the Commission Recommendation 2010/161/EC of 1 µg/kg. This demonstrates that the suggested maximum LOQ for the analysis of PFASs (1 µg/kg) is in most cases achievable. Regarding recovery, high variation was observed for the individual PFASs with median values ranging between 41 % and 75 %. In total, results above LOD or above LOQ were reported for only 11.8 % of the results across the 17 PFASs.
The most frequently found PFASs were PFOS (31.1 %), PFTriDA (17.2 %), PFOSA (16.6 %), PFOA (11.5 %), PFDA (11 %), PFDoDA (9.8 %), PFNA (9.3 %) and PFUnDA (7 %). PFBA, PFPA and PFHpS were not detected in any of the samples analysed. Across food groups, PFASs were mostly found in ‘Fish offal’ (68 %),‘Edible offal, game animals’ (64 %), ‘Meat, game mammals’ (22 %), ‘Water molluscs’ (20 %), ‘Crustaceans’ (17 %) and ‘Fish meat’ (9.7 %). In other food groups PFASs were detected with a much lower frequency (below 5 %). However, for several food groups and compounds only a limited number of samples was analysed and thus it was difficult to draw a clear conclusion on the contamination levels of these food groups.
The highest mean contamination for PFOS (216 µg/kg), PFNA (10.3µg/kg), PFOA (7.1 µg/kg), PFDA (6.0 µg/kg) and PFDoDA (3.7 µg/kg) was found in ‘Edible offal, game animals’. Lower mean concentration of PFOS and PFOA was observed in meat of game animals (both mammals and birds). Compared to the corresponding matrices of game animals, meat of farmed animals and their edible offal were less contaminated with PFASs.
In ‘Fish offal’, the highest mean concentration was found for PFOS (47 µg/kg) and PFOSA (15 µg/kg). The same compounds had the highest mean concentrations also in ‘Fish meat’, though at lower level, with 4.9 µg/kg for PFOS and 2.7 µg/kg for PFOSA. Only a limited number of crustacean samples was analysed but the levels found were similar to those observed in fish meat.
Different samples were analysed for different sets of PFASs. Therefore, calculating and comparing sum of PFASs was not possible. This prevented also from comparing the total contamination levels across food groups. A harmonisation effort to define a minimum standardised set of PFASs to be analysed in all samples would be required to allow a better comparability of the contamination across food groups. For this purpose, more research (e.g. total diet studies, biomonitoring, toxicological studies) is needed to establish the most representative PFASs.
In view of a more realistic exposure assessment which might follow at the end of the 2010-2011 monitoring it would be advantageous to increase the analytical performances of the methods applied in the analysis of PFASs in order to reduce the proportion of left-censored data. Both literature data and data provided for this report prove that this goal is achievable for all PFASs in all food groups.
The present report includes samples from both random and targeted monitoring, even if the latter is not always specifically stated. The results should therefore be interpreted with caution. Targeted samples and in particular samples taken from “hot-spots” may lead to an overestimation of the contamination levels.
For a more clear analysis of the background contamination and in view of an exposure assessment more data should be collected, in particular for food groups where the number of samples was limited but the frequency of contamination was high (crustaceans, water molluscs) and for food groups with low contamination levels but with high intake (drinking water and other beverages, foods for infants and small children). Also, taking into account that PFASs may migrate into food from containers in which food is stored, prepared or served it would be important to collect more data on ready-to-eat food (cooked food) and packaged food.