There is growing concern about the presence of PFAS in our food and drinking water. These chemicals are known to be toxic and have been linked to a variety of health problems. So, it’s no surprise that people are asking if salmon contain PFAS.
The FDA conducted testing of a wide range of foods and found PFAS in salmon. PFAS concentrations in salmon ranged from non-detect to 45 parts per trillion. They tested farmed Atlantic salmon from Chile, Canada, and Norway. 80% of the salmon had PFAS contamination.
In this blog post, we address the question about PFAS in salmon. We also discuss the risks associated with eating salmon contaminated with PFAS. Continue reading to learn more.
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 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
The chemicals per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) include PFOA, PFOS as well as GenX. These manmade compounds are known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment. They also accumulate in the human body over time which poses significant health risks.
PFAS compounds are used in thousands of products. Examples include:
- Nonstick cookware
- Fire-retardant fabrics
- Stain-resistant carpets and upholstery
- Water-repellent clothing
- Packaging for food, grease and oil resistance
- Firefighting foams
These chemicals can enter the environment when they are released from factories or during the use of products containing PFAS. They can also contaminate drinking water supplies.
Read my comprehensive article on PFAS to learn more about these forever chemicals.
How does PFAS get in my food?
It is virtually impossible to escape these forever chemicals. They are present in the water, soil and air all around us.
PFAS compounds enter our food supply through a variety of paths. In general, contaminated water, soil and air are the primary routes.
The plants we eat obtain PFAS through contaminated soil and water. Their roots take up these chemicals through normal metabolic activity.
The animals we use for food accumulate PFAS through their feed as well as the water they drink. Fish and shellfish accumulate PFAS chemicals through contact with these chemicals present in the water.
The presence of PFAS in every ocean has been well documented. These chemicals enter the food chain as they are absorbed by plankton and other small organisms. These small organisms are eaten by larger fish which, in turn, are consumed by larger fish. Over time, PFAS concentrations build up in their flesh.
We are exposed to dangerous chemicals when we eat fish that have been contaminated by PFAS.
Health concerns and PFAS
PFAS contamination is a global problem that has been linked to a variety of health effects. These include:
- Thyroid disease
- High cholesterol
- Ulcerative colitis
- Pregnancy-induced hypertension
- Reduced effectiveness of vaccines
- Kidney and testicular cancer
- Testicular and ovarian dysfunction
Some studies have also shown that PFAS exposure is linked to reduced fertility, birth defects, and problems with fetal development.
These chemicals can enter the human body through ingestion, inhalation or absorption through the skin. Once in our bodies, they can accumulate over time and cause serious health problems.
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 developed a very useful guide for determining how much PFAS in fish you can safely eat. Their guide is a tool known as chemical-specific fish tissue action levels (FTALs).
FTALs are the concentrations of a contaminant in fish below which there should be negligible risk of toxicity. Because PFAS bioaccumulate, this guide also includes a recommendation for how often you can eat contaminated fish.
The following table provides safe levels of PFAS in fish you can safely consume and the frequency you eat 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
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which is the European equivalent to our FDA, set a limit for the total exposure of 4 PFAS chemicals in food. The following 4 compounds are regulated by EFSA:
- 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 Salmon
The FDA’s recent tests for PFAS were conducted on a large variety of foods. Out of the 167 processed foods tested, their research found forever chemicals present in three. The tests showed that there were detectable levels of PFAS in fish sticks, canned tuna, and shrimp.
The FDA tested farmed Atlantic salmon in this study. No wild caught salmon was evaluated. They tested each sample for 16 PFAS chemicals.
Eight of 10 samples had detectable levels of PFAS in them. Only 1 PFAS compound was detected – PFDoA.
FDA food testing methodology
Testing for PFAS in food is challenging. To address this challenge, the FDA developed a new analytical method to test for PFAs in food.
The FDA’s novel procedure can identify and quantify the concentration of 16 PFAS compounds in food. Their method uses liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry methods. The FDA verified this analytical method for accuracy with the following food matrices:
- infant formula
- strawberry gelatin
- pancake syrup
- cream cheese
- shredded wheat cereal
The FDA’s PFAS method for food quantifies the following 16 compounds:
|NaDONA||Sodium dodecafluoro-3H-4, 8-dioxanonanoate|
FDA salmon testing results
The following table presents the results from the 2022 seafood survey conducted by the FDA. These results are for PFAS compounds detected in salmon.
Country of Origin
These results are in nanograms per kilogram (ng/kg), which is the same as ppt. If you ate 1 kilogram of the salmon sample with the highest concentration, you would ingest 45 nanograms of PFAS.
A kilogram is 2.2 pounds, which is a lot of salmon. However, a serving size of salmon is 4 ounces, which is 113 grams. This is 0.113 kilograms. If you eat salmon 9 times, you’ve consumed about a kilogram.
How much PFAS is in salmon?
How much PFAS are you ingesting when you eat a normal portion of salmon? Let’s determine the worst-case scenario and use the highest detected concentration of 45 ng/kg.
Here is the data for the salmon:
- PFAS concentration: 45 ng/kg
- Salmon portion size: 4-ounce or 113 grams (0.113 kg)
- PFAS in serving size of salmon: 5.085 nanograms
What does ingesting 5 nanograms of PFAS do to your health? It’s not easy to know, especially since the US has no safe limit for PFAS or other contaminants in our food.
Maine’s Standard: Let’s look at the worst-case scenario – the maximum PFAS concentration detected was 45 ng/kg. This value is below the lowest FTAL limit of 3,500 ng/kg. Maine’s CDC allows 1 meal of salmon 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).
Here is the math: 68 kg x 4.4 ng/kg per week = 299.2 ng per week
A single serving of salmon has 5.985 nanograms of PFAS. This is approximately 1.7% of the weekly limit allowed by EFSA. This suggests that you could eat salmon 59 times in a single week without any ill effects.
In my opinion, no amount of PFAS is safe and you should limit the amount of Atlantic salmon you consume. This is especially troubling to me because I really enjoy salmon.
Which PFAS compounds were found in salmon?
The FDA found 1 PFAS compound in the 10 samples of salmon they tested. They found this compound:
- PFDoA: maximum value = 45ng/kg
The FDA reported did not provide the specific salmon farm that the test samples were obtained from. They describe the samples as “Atlantic Salmon”. They did note the country of origin in each of their samples. These include:
- Canada – 2 samples
- Chile – 4 samples
- Norway – 4 samples
The FDA also listed the packaging that the salmon was in. The types of packing include:
- Expanded PS
FDA statement on food safety
The FDA report indicates that PFAS was detected in 8 out of 10 samples. They noted that all samples were “Atlantic salmon” and provided the country of origin. They also listed the packaging material that the fish was wrapped in.
One criticism of the FDA report – they provided a lot of data, but they offered relatively little interpretation or guidance on what the information means to the individual consumer.
The FDA pointed out that the sample sizes in this study were limited. As a result, they could not form definite conclusions about PFAS levels in seafood available to the public.
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.
What Can You Do
Some consumers may be concerned by the recent news concerning PFAS in salmon. Now that you know the dangers your family faces, what will you do to protect them?
The FDA indicated that the samples they found PFAS in was farmed Atlantic salmon. They also let us know that the samples came from Chile, Canada, and Norway. You can avoid eating farmed salmon that comes from these locations.
Beyond that, you’ll need to become your own advocate and educate yourself. A good starting point is to read my article about which products contain PFAS.
Another good strategy is to become aware of how foods can become contaminated by PFAS. Things to think about include:
- food grown in contaminated soil and water
- contaminated feed and water used for livestock
- food packaging that contains PFAS
- food processed in equipment that contains PFAS
In addition, you should avoid (or at least limit) these foods whenever possible:
- top of the food chain fish like salmon and tuna
- filter-feeders such as clams and oysters
- microwave popcorn
- foods that are packaged in PFAS containing materials
You can avoid PFAS by regularly testing your water to be sure it’s safe. Read my guide on testing your water for PFAS.
What foods are packaged with PFAS?
Virtually all fast foods are wrapped in packaging that may include PFAS. There is no required labeling of packaging, so it’s almost impossible to know if a particular restaurant’s food is wrapped in PFAS packaging.
Which fish contain PFAS?
The FDA has detected PFAS in fish sticks, canned tuna, tilapia, cod, and shrimp. Despite the presence of these forever chemicals in fish, they say: “Based on the best available current science, the FDA has no scientific evidence that the levels of PFAS found in the TDS samples tested to date indicate a need to avoid any particular food.”
How do I avoid eating PFAS with my food??
PFAS has been found in almost half of the tested pastry bags and wrappers. Bring your own container to avoid being exposed to PFAS from packaging. Also, limit fast foods like burgers or French fries that come in grease-resistant packaging when eating out.
The FDA’s findings have raised some concerns about the safety of consuming salmon, as PFAS levels were found in concentrations ranging from non-detect to 45 parts per trillion. While the agency noted that it could not draw definitive conclusions about the safety of PFAS levels in salmon and other seafood, it is still important to be aware of these potential risks.
If you are concerned about whether or not your favorite type of salmon contains PFAS, you can check to see if additional testing data are available. At this time, it is also important to be vigilant about food related risks associated with PFAS contamination.
Stay up to date on the latest news and advisories related to this issue so that you can make informed decisions about what seafood to eat.