Does Cod Fish Have PFAS in it? A Look at the Science

Does Cod Fish Have PFAS in it? A Look at the Science

Cod is a popular seafood that many people enjoy. But does cod have PFAS in it? That’s a question that many people are asking lately, as concerns about PFAS contamination continue to mount.

The FDA sampled a wide range of prepared foods Americans eat. They found PFAS in cod at concentrations ranging from 0 (non-detect) to 968 parts per trillion. The FDA sampled wild-caught cod fish from 5 countries. 80% of the cod had PFAS contamination. 

In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the science behind PFAS and its presence in our food supply. We’ll also discuss the potential risks of eating cod that may be contaminated with PFAS.

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
Do Shrimp Have PFAS In Them? Shocking Answers
Does Salmon Have PFAS in it? What Are Your Risks?
Does Tilapia Have PFAS in It? What You Need to Know

What is PFASPFAS molecule

PFAS is an acronym for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. These manmade compounds have been used in industry and consumer products since the 1950s. This group consists of more than 4,000 individual compounds including PFOA, PFOS and GenX.

PFAS are found in a variety of products, including:

  • Nonstick cookware
  • Waterproof clothing
  • Food packaging
  • Carpets and upholstery

PFAS are also used in many industrial processes, such as:

  • Firefighting foams
  • Metal plating
  • Photography
  • semiconductor manufacturing

PFAS are very stable and do not break down easily in the environment. They can be found in soil, water, and air. PFAS can also build up in the bodies of people and animals. Because of these properties, they are often referred to as “forever chemicals”.

Read my comprehensive article on PFAS to learn more about these contaminants.

How does PFAS get in my food?PFAS in Our Food

PFAS compounds have been found across the planet. They have been detected in the water, soil and air all around us.

These chemicals enter our food supply in several ways:

  1. food grown in contaminated soil
  2. food raised with contaminated water
  3. PFAS-containing packaging
  4. food processing equipment

The plants we consume become contaminated through PFAS in soil and water. PFAS dissolved in water is taken in through their roots and assimilated into the plant fiber.

Livestock we eat take in PFAS through contaminated feed and water. These fluorinated compounds have been found in animal livers, muscles, and blood.

The presence of PFAS in our oceans is becoming increasingly concerning. These chemicals enter the food chain through small organisms like plankton. Small bait fish consume them and, in turn, are eaten by larger fish. Over time, the concentration of PFAS builds up in their flesh.

When we consume fish that have been contaminated by PFAS, we are exposed to these dangerous chemicals.

Health concerns and PFAS

PFAS are linked to a variety of serious health concerns. These include:

  • Cancer
  • Thyroid disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Immune system disorders
  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension

These chemicals can also disrupt the endocrine system, which is responsible for hormone production. This can lead to a number of problems, including:

  • Infertility
  • Birth defects
  • Thyroid disorders

PFAS have also been linked to developmental problems in children.

What levels of PFAS in food are safe?

The EPA established drinking water standards (MCLs) that let us know what concentration of PFAS is safe. Unfortunately, there is no equivalent standard for our food.

There are many reasons why the US government has not established a safe level for food contaminants such as PFAS. Health experts cannot agree on how to evaluate risks. It is very difficult predicting what level of contaminants people can consume before they become ill.

Maine CDC standard for PFAS in food

The Maine CDC created a guide that tells you how much PFAS in fish is safe to eat. Their guideline is a tool known as the chemical-specific fish tissue action levels (FTALs).

FTALs are the concentrations of PFAS in fish below which there should be no toxic effects. Because PFAS bioaccumulate, the FTALs include a recommendation for how often you can eat contaminated fish.

The chart below shows the safe levels of PFAS in fish that you can eat without causing any harm. The Maine CDC came up with these values.

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

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which performs the same function as our FDA, has established a limit for total PFAS exposure in food at 4 PFAS chemicals.

The following 4 compounds are regulated by EFSA:

  1. perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)
  2. perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS)
  3. perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA)
  4. perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS)

The maximum amount of the four PFAS compounds combined, as set by the EFSA, is 4.4 ng/kg of body weight per week.

PFAS in Cod

Baked Cod
The FDA found PFAS in 8 of the 10 cod samples they tested.

The FDA sampled a wide range of foods that American eat to determine if PFAS contamination is a significant problem. Their testing found these chemicals in 3 of the 167 processed foods they analyzed. The FDA found PFAS contamination in fish sticks, canned tuna, and protein powder.

The FDA tested wild caught cod in this study from 5 different countries. Each sample was analyzed for 16 different PFAS chemicals.

Eight of 10 samples had detectable levels of PFAS in them. Eight different PFAS compound were detected – see table below.

FDA food testing methodology

It is very challenging to test for the presence of PFAS in food. This is further complicated by the lack of a standard method to sample food. To allow for their sampling campaign, the FDA created a new analytical method specifically for testing food items for PFAs.

The FDA’s novel procedure can measure 16 PFAS compounds in food using liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry methods. This new method has been confirmed to be accurate for the following food items:

  1. infant formula
  2. strawberry gelatin
  3. pancake syrup
  4. cream cheese
  5. shredded wheat cereal
  6. lettuce
  7. milk
  8. bread
  9. cod

The FDA food test measures the concentration of the following PFAS chemicals:

Acronym Name
PFBA Perfluorobutanoic acid
PFBS Perfluorobutanesulfonic acid
PFPeS Perfluoropentanesulfonic acid
PFPeA Perfluoropentanoic acid
PFHxA Perfluorohexanoic acid
PFHxS Perfluorohexanesulfonic acid
NaDONA Sodium dodecafluoro-3H-4, 8-dioxanonanoate
PFHpA Perfluoroheptanoic acid
PFHpS Perfluoroheptanesulfonic acid
9Cl-PF3ONS Potassium 9-chlorohexadecafluoro-3-oxanonane-1-sulfonate
PFOA Perfluorooctanoic Acid
PFOS Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid
PFNA Perfluorononanoic acid
11Cl-PF3OUdS 11-chloroeicosafluoro-3-oxaundecane-1-sulfonic acid
PFDA Perfluorodecanoic acid


FDA cod testing results

The table below summarizes the PFAS testing results from the 2022 seafood survey conducted by the FDA. These results are for total PFAS detected in cod. Eight out of 10 samples contained PFAS.

Item Description Total PFAS
Cod 661
Cod loin 173
Fillets 259
Pacific cod 968
Cod 658
Pacific cod 376
Pacific cod 0
Atlantic cod 435
Atlantic cod 237
Cod 0


These results are in nanograms per kilogram (ng/kg), which is the same as ppt. If you ate 1 kilogram of the “Pacific cod” – the sample with the highest concentration, you would ingest 968 nanograms of PFAS.

A kilogram is 2.2 pounds, which is a lot of cod. However, a typical serving of cod is 4-ounces, which is 113 grams (0.113 kilograms). If you eat cod 9 times, you’ve consumed a kilogram.

How much PFAS is in cod?

How much PFAS is in a serving of cod? Let’s consider the worst-case scenario – the highest concentration detected. The “Pacific cod” sample had the highest levels as you can see below.

  • PFAS concentration: 968 ng/kg
  • Normal cod serving size: 4-ounces (0.113 kg)
  • PFAS in serving size of cod: 109 nanograms

What do these results mean? Making sense of concentrations and doses of PFAS is confusing, especially since the US has not established a maximum safe limit for PFAS in our food.

Maine’s Standard: Maine’s CDC has a user friendly standard. Using the highest PFAS concentration of 968 ng/kg from the Pacific cod sample will give us a worst-case assessment of our risk.

This sample had a total PFAS concentration of 968 ng/kg which is less than the lowest FTAL limit of 3,500 ng/kg. Maine’s CDC standard would allow 1 meal of cod per week.

EFSA Standard: We can also compare this cod sample to the EFSA limit for PFAS – they set a maximum of 4.4 ng/kg of body weight per week. An average person weighs approximately 68 kilograms (150 pounds).

Here is the math: 68 kg x 4.4 ng/kg per week = 299.2 ng per week

One serving of cod has 109 nanograms of PFAS which is about 37% of the weekly limit allowed by EFSA. Using the European standard, you could eat cod 3 times each week without any health effects.

Personally, I don’t think any level of PFAS is safe. This is troubling, especially since I really enjoy cod.

Which PFAS compounds were found in cod?

The FDA found 8 PFAS compounds in the 10 samples of cod they tested. They found the following compounds:

  1. PFOA: maximum value = 105 ng/kg
  2. PFNA: maximum value = 103 ng/kg
  3. PFDA: maximum value = 99 ng/kg
  4. PFUdA: maximum value = 332 ng/kg
  5. PFDoA: maximum value = 120 ng/kg
  6. PFTrDA: maximum value = 247 ng/kg
  7. PFTeDA: maximum value = 77 ng/kg
  8. PFOS: maximum value = 75 ng/kg

The FDA reported did not provide the specific cod farms that the test samples were obtained from. They describe the samples as:

  • Cod
  • Cod loin
  • Fillets
  • Pacific cod
  • Atlantic cod

They also included the country of origin for of their samples.

  • China – 4 samples
  • China+ (United States) – 2 samples
  • Iceland – 2 samples
  • NI – 1 sample
  • Norway – 1 sample

All of the cod samples were wrapped in LDPE packaging.

FDA statement on food safety

The FDA report indicates that PFAS was detected in 8 out of 10 cod samples they collected. They tested both Atlantic and Pacific cod from 4 countries. They also noted the type of packaging the cod was wrapped in.

One criticism – they offered little interpretation or guidance on what individual consumers should do based off their findings. They also noted that their sample size was too small to make any projections about the overall safety of the US food supply.

The FDA offered one conclusion: 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.

Meanwhile, several states have issued advisories warning people to avoid fish caught in areas with known PFAS contamination. These so-called “hot spots” have very high levels of PFAS in fish.

What Can You Do

PFAS in Food Packaging
Many food containers used today contain PFAS compounds.

The recent news about PFAS and salmon may have you concerned. What will I do? This is a question we all need to ask ourselves.

The FDA indicated that the samples they found PFAS in was wild-caught Atlantic and Pacific cod. They also let us know the fish was from China, Iceland, and Norway. To protect yourself, you can reduce or eliminate cod from these locations. You can avoid eating cod that comes from these locations.

Beyond that, you’ll need to educate yourself and become your own advocate. A good starting point is to read my article about which products contain PFAS.

Another smart idea is to be aware of how PFAS may contaminate food. Sources of contaminated food include:

1.    Contaminated soil and water may introduce PFAS into vegetables.

2.    Livestock can accumulate PFAS from contaminated feed and water.

3.    PFAS-containing packaging can contaminate food.

4.    Some food processing equipment may use PFAS which can be transferred to food.

Whenever possible, you should limit or avoid these foods:

  • apex predator fish like salmon and tuna
  • filter-feeders such as clams and oysters
  • microwave popcorn
  • prepared foods in PFAS-containing packaging

You may avoid PFAS by testing your water on a regular basis to ensure that it is safe. Read my guide on testing your water for PFAS.

Final Take

The FDA’s findings have generated a lot of concern about the safety of cod consumption. They found PFAS at concentrations ranging from non-detect to 968 parts per trillion. Although the agency couldn’t make definite statements about the safety of cod and other seafood with respect to PFAS levels, it’s critical that we’re aware of these potential risks.

If you are concerned about whether your favorite type of cod contains PFAS, you can protect yourself by being vigilant about food related risks associated with PFAS contamination.

Keep up with the latest news and advisories so you know which seafood to avoid.

Boch Richard

Richard Boch is a chemical engineer responsible for designing water filtration systems for industrial and residential customers. He has more than 20 years of experience with ion exchange, activated carbon, and reverse osmosis. Richard's expertise has made him a go-to source for municipalities and businesses looking to improve their water quality. When he's not working, Richard enjoys spending time with his wife and two young children. You can also follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

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