PFAS testing: PFAS in food, water, and people

PFAS testing: PFAS in food, water, and people

PFAS are ubiquitous chemicals that exist in food, water, and our bodies, conducting a PFAS test enables us to understand better the levels of PFAS in the environment and the human body. The article will explain how PFAS enter our lives, how to detect their presence, and ways to avoid the risk of exposure to them.

How do PFAS encroach on our lives?

The full name of PFAS is per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances, a term covering thousands of chemical compounds. Since they do not break down easily, they are also referred to as “forever chemicals.” They enter our lives through various channels, causing a diverse array of health risks including cancer, reproductive issues, and endocrine system-related aberrations. PFAS enter our lives through the following channels:


PFAS coatings are used on the surface of our cookware and disposable packaging for takeout food. They end up in our food through direct contact and are then ingested by us.


Like microplastics, PFAS enter water supplies around the world through the water cycle. For this reason, PFAS are frequently detected in water and can end up in our bodies via drinking or washing water.


Whichever channel they arrive through, PFAS will gradually accumulate in the human body and increase in concentration, so by minimizing PFAS exposure we can slow the process of accumulation.

How to test for PFAS in food?

PFAS enter food via three major channels: leaching from cookware during cooking, leaching from food containers, and food contamination.

PFAS from cookwares

For greater convenience and to prevent sticking, many cookware surfaces are coated with a layer of PFAS. These include non-stick pans, inner pots of electric cookers, baking trays, and waffle makers. While cooking, the PFAS coating dissolves naturally and contaminates food. If the coating is damaged by steel ladles or steel brushes, the quantity and speed of this process will increase, thereby allowing more PFAS to enter food.

PFAS from food containers

Numerous types of food containers may contain PFAS for various reasons: plastics may be fluorinated, while plant fibers such as paper and bamboo require waterproof coatings to prevent softening and odors. When we use these containers to hold food, PFAS will spread to food through direct contact or the air.

PFAS entering food during its growing stages

PFAS are spread across the globe via the water cycle, thus they can be found everywhere in the environment. Besides fish living in contaminated water, crops planted on contaminated soil will also contain PFAS.

Testing for PFAS in food

PFAS detection requires precision instruments. The laboratory will use solvents to extract and concentrate PFAS in food before testing is conducted using a Liquid Chromatograph/Mass Spectrometer (LC/MS). The sample is sent to the LC for analysis, where various ingredients in the food are separated before being introduced into the MS, where PFAS are broken down into ions by particle collision. After detecting the ion ratio, the PFAS concentration can be calculated. Currently, the most widely used methods are liquid chromatography with tandem mass spectrometry (LC/MS/MS) and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC/MS).

Techniques to avoid PFAS in food

As explained above, there are three major ways PFAS can end up in food. To avoid them, we can use less “non-stick” cookware and choose stainless steel pots instead. Moreover, we should also eat less takeout food because we can’t be sure whether restaurants use PFAS-free cookware. If we order takeout food that comes in disposable food containers, unless the restaurant uses food packaging that has been tested, such as renouvo’s PFAS-free sugarcane lunch boxes, PFAS are likely present in the food. Lastly, we can reduce the consumption of freshwater fish, because if the water is contaminated by PFAS, the concentration will be much higher than that of the ocean. Consequently, eating saltwater fish instead of freshwater fish is also one way to steer clear of PFAS in food.

How to test PFAS in water?

PFAS enter the water via three main pathways: lack of pollution control equipment during the manufacturing of products containing PFAS; leakage from product usage or disposal; firefighting foam containing PFAS ending up in the environment. Furthermore, water cycles such as rainfall and ocean currents also allow PFAS to enter a wider range of water sources.

PFAS entering water from the manufacturing of products containing PFAS

Many products require the addition of PFAS as auxiliary chemicals in the production process, or they are used directly as part of the products’ formula:

  • As a surfactant, the core ingredient of detergents, shampoos, and body washes.
  • As a water- and stain-resistant coating for female hygiene products, waterproof shoes, undergarments, carpets, and outdoor products.
  • As a formula for maintaining durability and water resistance in cosmetics.
  • As an auxiliary chemical during the optical etching process of screen and semiconductor production.
  • As an additive to enhance the functionality and stability of pesticides, cameral films, and oil paints.
  • As an insulator for precision medical equipment.
  • As a coating for surfaces that come in direct contact with human tissues, such as contact lenses, catheters and stents, to reduce the likelihood of allergic and adverse reactions.
  • As a water- and oil-resistant coating for food packaging and book covers.
  • As a non-stick coating for cookware.

For more details on products containing PFAS and their uses, please refer to: What products contain PFAS and what alternatives are there?

PFAS may leak into surrounding rivers, via rainwater, during the product manufacturing process, or via wastewater or waste discharged by the factory into the nearby environment, due to inadequate pollution controls.

PFAS entering water from product usage and disposal

Even if pollution control measures are implemented during the manufacturing process of products containing PFAS. When we use and dispose of these products, PFAS can still contaminate water under the following circumstances: pouring dirty water down the drain after mopping the floor with detergent; PFAS coating peeling off when washing cookware; cosmetics and cleaning products that are washed away when removing make-up or taking a bath; food packaging, outdoor products, and consumer electronics that ultimately end up in the waste disposal system and get buried in landfill. After products containing PFAS enter landfill, once the waterproofing measures fail, chemical substances such as microplastics and PFAS will leak into the local groundwater with rain.

PFAS entering water from firefighting

When an accident occurs in certain locations, such as airports and military facilities, special firefighting foams must be used to effectively extinguish the fire and prevent greater losses of life and property. PFAS are an indispensable ingredient for producing the most effective firefighting foams. When firefighting foams containing PFAS are used and enter the surrounding environment, they will eventually end up in rivers and groundwater via rainfall or irrigation.

Testing for PFAS in water

The same method as for testing food is applied, where LC/MS is used to test for PFAS in water. In addition, isotope dilution anion exchange SPE and LC/MS/MS test can also be used, where the water being tested is poured into a PFAS isotope dilution with a known concentration before the concentration of the tested sample is extracted and analyzed to detect PFAS levels.

Techniques to avoid PFAS in water

Except for open information released by the government, there is no way of knowing whether the water around us or our drinking water is contaminated by PFAS. However, we can install RO or activated carbon water filtration systems at home, which are equally effective in removing and avoiding PFAS.

How to test for PFAS in humans?

PFAS gradually build up in our bodies when we drink water, eat food, or use products containing PFAS. Although there is currently no hard evidence to prove that PFAS are harmful to the human body, numerous studies suggest they pose a high health risk.

PFAS entering the human body via food

Food is easily contaminated by other substances and can introduce PFAS into our bodies. In particular, pizza boxes and microwave popcorn bags are the most common food packaging tested positive for PFAS, thus there is a greater risk of ingesting PFAS when we eat pizza and popcorn.

PFAS entering the human body via drinking water

According to a research report published by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in 2023, an average of 45% of drinking water in the US has tested positive for at least one type of PFAS, which will end up in our bodies when we drink that water.

PFAS entering the human body via clothes

Some undergarments and functional clothing contain PFAS to increase their water and stain resistance for our daily convenience. However, PFAS will rub off clothes due to contact and friction with the skin and enter our bodies.

PFAS entering the human body via medical treatments

Since many medical devices contain PFAS, when we receive treatments such as installing stents, catheters, or even wearing hospital gowns, PFAS will enter our bodies through the air or direct contact.

Testing for PFAS in the human body

The presence of PFAS in the human body is tested through blood. However, this is no ordinary health test; only special laboratories can provide such services. Since PFAS are present in all animals worldwide, detecting PFAS is an inevitable outcome. There are no clear health guidelines to enable us determine whether the concentrations of PFAS in our bodies are safe or not, and even if we want to lower the concentration of PFAS in our blood, there is a lack of medical treatments that have been proven to be effective. While it is normal to worry about PFAS, we do not advise you to test for them in your body because it is not only expensive but also does not offer tangible benefits to your health.

Ways to prevent PFAS accumulation in your body

Besides the above-mentioned advice on preventing accumulation of PFAS from food and water in your body, we can also look after our health to avoid unnecessary medical treatments. At the same time, do not purchase products that claim to be “waterproof”, “oil-resistant”, or “stain-resistant,” to reduce the likelihood of being exposed to PFAS and help prevent them from accumulating in your body.

Why does renouvo pay attention to PFAS issues?

Although there is not yet direct evidence to prove PFAS’ impact on the human body, due to their diverse categories and the fact that the first PFAS studies were only conducted relatively recently, renouvo believes that just like microplastics, PFAS are manmade compounds that do not occur naturally and will remain in the environment for a long time. This makes them extremely dangerous, because if it is proven one day that PFAS do cause irreversible harm to people’s health, it will be too late. Therefore, renouvo insists on PFAS-free ingredients and formulae, and its products are sent to professional laboratories for testing to ensure that they are not contaminated by PFAS. The company’s goal is to minimize our exposure to PFAS by providing safe food containers.