Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) are common industrial and consumer product chemicals with widespread human exposures that have been linked to adverse health effects. PFASs are commonly detected in foods and food-contact materials (FCMs), including fast food packaging and microwave popcorn bags.
Our goal was to investigate associations between serum PFASs and consumption of restaurant food and popcorn in a representative sample of Americans.
We analyzed 2003–2014 serum PFAS and dietary recall data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). We used multivariable linear regressions to investigate relationships between consumption of fast food, restaurant food, food eaten at home, and microwave popcorn and serum levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA), perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS), and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS).
Calories of food eaten at home in the past 24 h had significant inverse associations with serum levels of all five PFASs; these associations were stronger in women. Consumption of meals from fast food/pizza restaurants and other restaurants was generally associated with higher serum PFAS concentrations, based on 24-h and 7-d recall, with limited statistical significance. Consumption of popcorn was associated with significantly higher serum levels of PFOA, PFNA, PFDA, and PFOS, based on 24-h and 12-month recall, up to a 63% (95% CI: 34, 99) increase in PFDA among those who ate popcorn daily over the last 12 months.
Associations between serum PFAS and popcorn consumption may be a consequence of PFAS migration from microwave popcorn bags. Inverse associations between serum PFAS and food eaten at home—primarily from grocery stores—is consistent with less contact between home-prepared food and FCMs, some of which contain PFASs. The potential for FCMs to contribute to PFAS exposure, coupled with concerns about toxicity and persistence, support the use of alternatives to PFASs in FCMs.