Milk is a staple in many households. It’s a great source of protein and calcium, and it has long been considered a healthy drink. But what if I told you that milk might be contaminated with PFAS?
The FDA tested milk for PFAS as part of their food safety program between 2018 and 2021. PFAS concentrations in milk ranged from 0 to 5,862 parts per trillion. 66% of the samples were contaminated with PFAS compounds. The FDA did not issue a health advisory or other warning about potential health risks associated with drinking milk.
If you’re concerned about PFAS contamination in milk, you need to read this blog post. We’ll discuss the dangers of PFAS and how to avoid them.
What is PFAS
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals. They have been used in a variety of industries for their water repellent properties. There are more than 4,000 PFAS chemicals, and they’re all man-made.
These chemicals are very stable and don’t break down easily. They can stay in the environment for many years, and they can build up in your body over time. This is why PFAS are sometimes called “forever chemicals.”
PFAS compounds are used in many consumer items, including:
- Non-stick cookware
- Waterproof clothing
- Stain-resistant fabrics and carpets
- Firefighting foam
These chemicals are also found in food packaging, as well as in some personal care products. Some PFAS chemicals have been banned in the United States, but many others are still in use.
How does PFAS get in my food?
PFAS can enter the food supply through a variety of means, including air, water, and soil.
One way that PFAS may contaminate food is through contaminated soil. How can this happen?
In agriculture, residuals such as biosolids, industrial sludges and ashes are commonly applied to soil. This material contains nutrients and organic matter that improves soils and agricultural production. It was recently discovered that many of these residuals are contaminated with PFAS.
When these contaminated materials are spread on farmland, PFAS may be taken up by plants. On dairies, farmers grow grass and grain in these impacted soils, which are then fed to their cows.
When PFAS-containing feed is given to cows, their milk becomes contaminated with PFAS.
Another way PFAS gets into milk is through contaminated water. When this water is used for irrigation, the plants take up PFAS which is incorporated in their fibers. Milk can also become contaminated if cows are allowed to drink PFAS impacted water.
PFAS tends to be detected in milk because it bioaccumulates in cows. Farmers spread sludge on fields, plants take the contaminants up from the soil, then cows eat the grass in great amounts, concentrating the PFAS, which end up in their milk.
Health concerns and PFAS
PFAS chemicals are linked to a variety of health problems, including:
- Hormone disruption
- Thyroid disease
- High cholesterol
- Immune system suppression
- Reproductive and developmental problems
- Weight gain
- Liver damage
These chemicals can also cause birth defects and developmental problems in fetuses and infants.
PFAS have been found in the blood of nearly every person tested, including newborn babies.
What Levels of PFAS in Milk Are Safe?
The United States has not established have a safe level of PFAS in milk or food. The EPA developed Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) that establish safe limits for drinking water. It’s unfortunate that there is no similar standard for our food.
One reason for this lack of a food standard is the experts can’t decide how much PFAS we can safely consume. Predicting the amount of toxins people can safely eat without becoming ill is not an exact science.
The experts who study the effects of toxins on humans cannot agree on how to evaluate the risks. This leaves us on our own to determine what we should do.
Maine CDC standard for PFAS in milk
The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) is committed to ensuring a safe food supply in Maine. Recently they have been taking an active role responding to PFAS chemicals found on farms.
The Maine CDC developed an Action Threshold for PFOS in milk – 210 parts per trillion (ppt).
|Action Levels For PFOS In Cow’s Milk|
|Age group (years)||1-2||3-5||6-11||12-19||20+|
|Action level (nanograms/Liter, ng/L)||210||400||710||1,510||2,700|
These action levels for PFOS in cow’s milk are not legally enforceable standards. They do however, provide a screening level to give us a general idea of whether milk is safe or not.
European Food Safety Authority standard for PFAS in food
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), Europe’s equivalent of the FDA, established a combined exposure limit of 4 PFAS compounds in food. The compounds that they regulate include:
- 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 Milk
The FDA conducted PFAS testing in a wide range of foods. Tests showed detectable concentrations of PFAS in fish sticks, canned tuna, and protein powder.
The FDA tested 30 milk samples for 16 PFAS chemicals. They found 10 different PFAS compounds in the milk they tested. Every sample was contaminated with PFAS.
The State of Maine also sampled milk that was produced in the state. They found no PFAS in their milk.
FDA food testing methodology
Testing food for the presence of PFAS is notoriously difficult. The FDA developed a novel analytical approach to screen for PFAs in meals as a way to overcome this difficulty.
The FDA’s innovative procedure can measure 16 PFAS compounds in food using liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry methods. They verified their test method for accuracy with the following food matrices:
- infant formula
- strawberry gelatin
- pancake syrup
- cream cheese
- shredded wheat cereal
The following PFAS chemicals are quantified with the FDA’s new food laboratory method:
|NaDONA||Sodium dodecafluoro-3H-4, 8-dioxanonanoate|
PFAS testing results for milk
The following table presents the PFAS sampling results for milk that was analyzed by the FDA in their Food Safety Study. These results are for total PFAS detected in milk between 2018 and 2021.
FDA Food Safety Study – PFAS in Milk
|Sample Identification||Total PFAS|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 1- sample 1||1,543|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 2- sample 1||5,567|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 2- sample 2||3,615|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 2- sample 3||5,662|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 2- sample 4||5,276|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 2- sample 5||5,364|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 3- sample 1||2,764|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 4- sample 1||5,862|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 5- sample 1||2,510|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 6- sample 1||5,852|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 7- sample 1||3,100|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 8- sample 1||2,741|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 9- sample 1||2,023|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 10- sample 1||3,015|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 11- sample 1||1,923|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 12- sample 1||2,639|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 13- sample 1||1,663|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 14- sample 1||1,224|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 15- sample 1||904|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 16- sample 1||2,630|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 17- sample 1||2,130|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 18- sample 1||1,667|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 19- sample 1||824|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 20- sample 1||1,300|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 21- sample 1||1,420|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 22- sample 1||996|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 23- sample 1||766|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 24- sample 1||735|
|Milk-Farm A- collection 25- sample 1||289|
|Milk Farm B- collection 1- sample 1||118|
|Retail milk – collection 2||0|
|Retail milk – collection 5||0|
|Retail milk- collection 6||0|
|Retail milk- collection 7||0|
|Retail milk- collection 8||0|
|Retail milk- collection 9||66|
|Retail milk- collection 10||53|
|Retail milk- collection 11||0|
|Retail milk- collection 12||0|
|Retail milk- collection 13||0|
|Retail milk- collection 14||0|
|Retail milk- collection 15||0|
|Retail milk- collection 16||10|
|Retail milk- collection 18||0|
|Retail milk- collection 19||0|
|Retail milk- collection 20||0|
|Retail milk- collection 21||0|
|Retail milk- collection 22||0|
|Retail milk- collection 24||0|
|Retail milk- collection 25||0|
These results are in nanograms per kilogram (ng/kg), which is the same as ppt. If you drank 1 kilogram of the milk with the highest concentration (Milk-Farm A- collection 4- sample 1), you would ingest 1,436 nanograms of PFAS.
A kilogram is 2.2 pounds, which is a lot of milk to drink. However, a typical serving size is 245 grams (0.245 kilograms). If you drink 4 servings of milk, you’ve consumed a kilogram.
Maine Retail Milk Sampling Study
The Maine Department of Agriculture Conservation & Forestry conducted a comprehensive program to sample all of the milk produced and sold in the state. This study tested milk for PFAS at 6 dairies – see table below for results.
All samples were below the reporting limit – which means there was 0 PFAS in the milk samples.
|HP Hood||< RL|
|Houlton Farms||< RL|
|Smiling Hill||< RL|
|Horizon Organic||< RL|
The brands that this testing program covers include:
- Cumberland Farms
- Dairy Pure
- Great Value
- Houlton Farms
- Smiling Hill
This is all good news for Maine residents.
How much PFAS is in milk?
How much PFAS are you consuming when you drink a service of? Let’s take a look at the sample with the highest concentration – the “Milk-Farm A- collection 4- sample 1” sample.
Here is the data:
PFAS concentration: 5,862 ng/kg
Milk portion size: 8-ounces or 245 mg (0.245 kg)
PFAS in serving size of clams: 1,436 nanograms
What affect would 1,436 nanograms of PFAS have on your health?
There is no easy way to know, as there is no national standard for PFAS in food. The FDA commented that the toxic levels present are “likely a health concern.”
To help you make sense of these numbers, we can compare the FDA’s testing data to the Maine CDC standard and the EFSA limit.
Maine Action Threshold:
The Maine CDC set the current action level for milk at 210 ppt (ng/l). This value is for PFOS, not total PFAS. To be conservative, we can use Total PFAS results for comparison
The highest PFAS concentration in the milk samples was 5,862 ng/kg, which is the same as ppt. Comparing this to the action level, we see that value is almost 28 times the standard.
According to the Maine CDC standard, you should avoid milk altogether.
If we look at just the retail samples, the highest concentration was 118 ppt. This is about 56% of the limit. This is still high, but the Maine CDC standard would allow you to have a little milk.
EFSA Standard: Using the EFSA standard, we have to determine how much PFAS an “average” person can safely consume. The highest amount of PFAS they established is 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 the most contaminated milk has 1,436 nanograms of PFAS. This represents almost 5 times the weekly limit allowed by EFSA. Theoretically, you should limit your intake of milk to about 1 serving per month.
Although the Maine CDC and EFSA guidance says you can drink milk, I would avoid it completely. This is troubling, especially since I really enjoy milk.
Which PFAS compounds were found in milk?
The FDA found 10 different PFAS compounds in the milk samples they tested. These compounds are:
1. PFOA: maximum value = 169 ng/kg
2. PFOS: maximum value = 4220 ng/kg
3. PFBA: maximum value = 220 ng/kg
4. PFHpS: maximum value = 239 ng/kg
5. PFPeA: maximum value = 89 ng/kg
6. PFHxA: maximum value = 108 ng/kg
7. PFHxS: maximum value = 1940 ng/kg
8. PFHpA: maximum value = 30 ng/kg
9. PFBS: maximum value = 69 ng/kg
10. PFPeS: maximum value = 76 ng/kg
All of the milk samples were obtained from the following locations:
- dairy farms – 2 locations
- retail stores – 20 locations
The FDA did not identify the specific farms or brands of milk they tested. This makes it impossible to know which brands are safe and which ones are not.
FDA statement on food safety
The FDA provided a lot of information but didn’t offer any explanation about how to interpret the results. The report indicates that PFAS was detected in every can of tuna fish, but they did not release the brand names of the tuna they tested.
In one statement, the FDA noted that the sample sizes in their study were limited. As a result, the results cannot be used to form definite conclusions about PFAS levels in seafood available to the public.
All of this has left many people confused and afraid.
The FDA’s main focus was 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
Now that you are aware of the risks your family faces from milk contaminated with PFAS, what can you do to protect them?
Furthermore, you can learn about food safety to be conscious of where PFAS might exist. A good starting point is to read my article about which products contain PFAS.
Educate yourself on the various ways that food becomes contaminated with PFAS. If you understand how your food can pick up these chemicals, then you can avoid situations where you’re likely to find problems.
Here are the most common sources of food contamination:
- growing food in contaminated soil
- watering plants with PFAS-contaminated water
- livestock that consume contaminated feed and water
- using PFAS-containing food packaging
- food processing equipment that includes PFAS
Whenever possible, avoid these foods:
- salmon and tuna
- clams and oysters
- microwave popcorn
- process foods
You should be mindful that foods that are packaged in PFAS containing materials can become contaminated by contacting these containers.
Read my guide on testing your water for PFAS.
Are PFAS in milk cartons?
PFAS compounds are used in milk cartons. The FDA allows PFAS-containing materials to be used in food containers and packaging.
Can you remove PFAS from milk?
You cannot remove PFAS from milk.
Do organic products have PFAS?
Organic products can have PFAS contamination if they come into contact with contaminated water or soil. Rainwater has PFAS in it. This makes it almost impossible to avoid PFAS contamination.
Can you boil PFAS out of milk?
Boiling milk does not remove PFAS. In fact, boiling it will concentrate the PFAS even more as the liquid evaporates.
Milk is a staple in many households and is often considered a healthy drink. However, recent studies have shown that milk may be contaminated with PFAS compounds. The FDA has tested milk for PFAS and found that 66% of the samples were contaminated.
If you’re concerned about PFAS contamination, you need to read this blog post. We’ll discuss the dangers of PFAS and how to avoid them.