Do shrimp have PFAS in them? The answer may surprise you.
The FDA conducted PFAS testing of shrimp to evaluate food safety. PFAS was detected in 1 of 10 samples at a concentration of 27 parts per trillion. The FDA did not identify which brands of shrimp were tested. They also noted that they didn’t collect enough samples to draw definitive conclusions about the safety of seafood in the US.
In this blog post, we will discuss what PFAS are and why they are a concern for human health. We will also talk about the latest data available for shrimp and PFAS contamination and what you can do to protect yourself and your family.
Read my comprehensive article about PFAS contamination in our food.
Related articles about PFAS in our food:
Is PFAS in Canned Tuna: What You Need to Know
Do Fish Sticks Have PFAS in Them? Surprising Results
Does Salmon Have PFAS in it? What Are Your Risks?
Does Cod Fish Have PFAS in it? A Look at the Science
Does Tilapia Have PFAS in It? What You Need to Know
What is PFAS
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other similar chemicals. These compounds are known as forever chemicals because they do not break down in the environment or in the human body.
PFAS have been used in a variety of products, including:
- Nonstick cookware
- Water-repellent clothing
- Stain-resistant fabrics and carpeting
- Some food packaging
- Firefighting foams
Although PFAS are beneficial in protecting against heat, grease stains, and water, they pose significant health risks if consumed or inhaled regularly over long periods of time.
Read my comprehensive article on PFAS to learn more about these forever chemicals.
How does PFAS get in my food?
PFAS compounds are exceedingly persistent pollutants that do not readily decompose in the environment. These contaminants enter our food supply through contaminated water, soil or air.
Plants absorb PFAS through the uptake of contaminated water. Animals who eat these contaminated plants are exposed to this toxin. PFAS chemicals can accumulate in fish and shellfish through the absorption of these chemicals present in the water.
Numerous studies have shown the presence of PFAS in every ocean. These compounds are absorbed by plankton and other sea life, which can then be eaten by tiny fish. These prey are subsequently consumed by larger fish. This results in a concentration of PFAS in their bodies.
When humans eat these fish, we are exposed to dangerous forever molecules.
Health concerns and PFAS
PFAS represent significant public health hazards because of their wide use, persistence in the environment, and ability to accumulate in people and animals.
Exposure to PFAS has been linked to a variety of serious health problems, including:
- Thyroid disease
- High cholesterol
- Ulcerative colitis
- Pregnancy-induced hypertension
- Kidney and testicular cancer
In addition to the health concerns listed above, PFAS exposure has also been linked to immune system suppression, hormonal disruption, and liver damage.
The EPA has set a drinking water advisory limit for PFOA and PFOS of 70 parts per trillion. This is the level at which the EPA believes there is a “negligible risk” of adverse health effects from long-term exposure.
What Levels of PFAS in Food Are Safe?
While the FDA has not set a limit for PFAS in seafood, they have expressed concern about the potential risks associated with consuming seafood contaminated with these chemicals.
The US government has not established a safe level of PFAS in food. The EPA has established maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for PFAS drinking water – this is the safe level for contaminants in water. Unfortunately, there is currently no corresponding food quality standard.
The lack of agreement around safe PFAS levels is one reason we don’t have a regulatory standard for food. It is hard to predict how much of a poisonous chemical people can consume before they become ill.
Another reason for this dilemma is that health experts can’t agree on how to evaluate the risks.
Maine CDC standard for PFAS in food
The Maine CDC published their guide for what levels of PFAS in fish you can safely consume. This useful guide is a tool known as chemical-specific fish tissue action levels (FTALs).
FTALs identify the maximum concentrations of PFAS in fish below which there should be negligible risk of health effects. Maine’s guide also includes a “meal advice” to let you know how often you can eat PFAS-contaminated fish. This limit is due to the fact the PFAS bioaccumulate in our bodies (i.e., do not dissipate over time).
The following table provides safe levels of PFAS in fish you can eat and how often you can consume it. These values are developed by the Maine CDC.
|PFOS in fish (ng/kg)||Meal advice|
|3,500||1 meal per week|
|7,500||2 meals per month|
|15,000||1 meal per month|
|30,000||6 meals per year|
|60,000||3 meals per year|
|> 60,000||Do Not Eat|
European Food Safety Authority standard for PFAS in food
Government agencies across the planet have established different levels and guidelines for PFAS.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) set a limit for the total exposure of 4 PFAS chemicals in food. EFSA regulates the following 4 compounds:
- perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)
- perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS)
- perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA)
- perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS)
The EFSA limit for the combined total of these four PFAS compounds is 4.4 ng/kg of body weight per week.
PFAS in Shrimp
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tested a variety of foods for PFAS. Their sampling program found PFAS compounds in 3 of the 167 processed foods they tested. PFAS were discovered in shrimp, canned tuna, and protein powder at concentrations that might be harmful to human health.
The agency tested each shrimp sample for 16 PFAS chemicals. One PFAS compound – PFDoA – was detected in one of the shrimp samples they tested.
FDA food testing methodology
It is difficult to test for PFAS in food. The FDA developed a new analytical technique to test for PFAs in food that addressed these difficulties.
The new FDA procedure can measure 16 PFAS compounds in food using liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry methods. Their new method was verified to be accurate for the following food matrices:
- infant formula
- strawberry gelatin
- pancake syrup
- cream cheese
- shredded wheat cereal
The following PFAS chemicals are quantified by the FDA’s food test method:
|NaDONA||Sodium dodecafluoro-3H-4, 8-dioxanonanoate|
FDA shrimp testing results
The following table presents the results from the 2022 seafood survey conducted by the FDA. These results are for PFAS compounds detected shrimp.
|Item Description||Total PFAS|
|26-30 count shrimp||0|
|26-30 count shrimp||0|
|41-50 count shrimp||0|
|30-40 count shrimp||0|
|16-20 count shrimp||0|
|21-25 count shrimp||0|
|41-50 count shrimp||0|
|31-40 count shrimp||0|
|21-25 count shrimp||27|
|16-20 count shrimp||0|
These results are in nanograms per kilogram (ng/kg), which is the same as ppt. If you ate 1 kilogram of the “21-25 count shrimp” – the shrimp sample with the highest concentration, you would ingest 27 nanograms of PFAS.
A kilogram is 2.2 pounds, which is a lot of shrimp. However, a serving of 21-25 count shrimp is 4 ounces, which is approximately 113 grams. This is 0.113 kilograms. If you eat shrimp 9 times, you’ve consumed a kilogram.
How much PFAS is in shrimp?
How much PFAS are you consuming when you have a portion of shrimp? To answer this question, let’s look at the sample with the highest concentration – the “21-25 count shrimp” sample.
Here is the data:
- PFAS concentration: 27 ng/kg
- Fish stick portion size: 113 grams (0.113 kg)
- PFAS in serving size of shrimp: 3.051 nanograms
What is the significance of these results? It’s hard to say, especially since the US has no safety regulations for PFAS in our food.
Maine’s Standard: The maximum PFAS level in shrimp was 27 ng/kg. This value is less than the lowest FTAL limit of 3,500 ng/kg. Maine’s CDC guidance is 1 meal per week.
EFSA Standard: Let’s compare these data to the EFSA limit for PFAS of 4.4 ng/kg of body weight per week. An average person weighs approximately 68 kilograms (150 pounds).
Calculation: 68 kg x 4.4 ng/kg per week = 299.2 ng per week
One serving of shrimp has 3.051 nanograms of PFAS. This is approximately 1% of the weekly PFAS limit allowed by EFSA. Based on this, you would have to eat shrimp 100 times to exceed your weekly limit before you would experience any health complications.
I believe that even trace amounts of PFAS are dangerous. This is concerning, especially since I enjoy shrimp.
Which PFAS compounds were found in shrimp?
The FDA found 1 PFAS compound in the 10 samples of shrimp they tested. Here are their findings:
- PFDoA: maximum value = 27ng/kg
The FDA did not identify the specific brands of shrimp they tested. Because of this, it’s impossible to determine which brands are safe and which aren’t.
FDA statement on food safety
The FDA conducted testing for per fluorinated compounds in seafood, and their report offers some interesting insights. They detected PFAS in one shrimp sample at a relatively low concentration. However, they offered no interpretation of the results to help the public understand what they mean.
This has confused and scared many individuals.
The FDA emphasized in their report that while low levels of PFAS were found in three types of food, there is currently “no scientific evidence” that the general public should be alarmed or avoid eating any foods due to these trace concentrations of chemicals.
What Can You Do
Much of this news about PFAS in shrimp may be upsetting to some consumers. What action should you take to protect your family now that you know the facts?
Unfortunately, the FDA did not reveal the names of the shrimp companies they tested. This would have come in handy. For now, we’re on our own.
The first step in preventing PFAS contamination in food is to learn about it. I wrote an article about which products contain PFAS.
There are many ways in which food can become tainted with PFAS.
- growing food with soil and water contaminated with PFAS
- contaminated feed and water used for livestock
- PFAS-containing food packaging
- processing equipment that contains PFAS
Avoid eating these foods whenever possible:
- large fish like salmon and tuna
- filter-feeding shellfish such as clams and oysters
- microwave popcorn
- foods that are packaged in PFAS containing materials
Another approach to avoid PFAS is to test your water. Read my guide on testing your water for PFAS.
The FDA conducted a far-reaching study to determine how much PFAS is in the US food supply. Their testing found low levels of PFAS in shrimp.
This is concerning, especially since the FDA has not set a safety limit for PFAS in food. I believe that even trace amounts of PFAS are dangerous.
Do your own research and make informed decisions about the food you eat!