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.
FSANZ work on perfluorinated compounds
In 2016, the Australian Government Department of Health (Health) commissioned FSANZ to:
- provide advice on appropriate health based guidance values (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 in December 2016 including 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.
In 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 in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Code).
FSANZ proposed trigger points for investigation for PFOS + PFHxS combined and PFOA for this purpose.
These trigger points could be employed by state and territory food jurisdictions when analysing per- and poly-fluoroalkyl (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 (ATDS) 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.
The 27th ATDS tested for 30 different types of PFAS in 1,336 composite samples representing 112 commonly eaten foods sourced from all Australian states and territories across two different seasons.
The Study found that levels of PFAS in the general Australian food supply are very low. PFOS was the only congener detected in five of 112 food types and less than 2% of all samples. The overall dietary exposure to PFOS for the general Australian population is lower than the TDI indicating no public health and safety concerns. There is no current need for FSANZ to consider food regulatory measures such as maximum levels in the Code.
To support the 27th ATDS, FSANZ also undertook a review of recent studies concerning the potential of PFAS to affect the human immune system. See PFAS and Immunomodulation: Review and Update. The review evaluated the relationship between PFAS and immune response to vaccinations, susceptibility to infections, and hypersensitivity responses, including allergy. Our conclusions were that although some statistical associations were found, there is a lack of consistent evidence that PFAS at levels of environmental exposure are harmful to the human immune system.
Previous work on perfluorinated compounds
In 2015, the NSW Food Authority asked FSANZ to provide advice on the 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 HBGV for PFOS for some species of fish or crustacea. However, this is not likely to be the case for the general population.