Foodservice Footprint strawberries ‘Forever chemicals’ found in fruit and veg Foodservice News and Information  news-email email-news

‘Forever chemicals’ found in fruit and veg

Campaigners have stressed the urgent need to better understand the health risks associated with ingesting so-called ‘forever chemicals’ after research found evidence of their presence in a variety of fruit and vegetables.

PAN UK, a campaign group, analysed the latest results from the UK Government’s residue testing programme and found that ten different PFAS pesticides were present in a range of items including grapes, cherries, spinach and tomatoes. Strawberries were found to be the worst offenders, with 95% of the 120 samples tested by the government in 2022 containing PFAS pesticides.

PFAS is the name given to a family of around 10,000 chemicals. Commonly found in household products such as non-stick cookware and often used in packaging, they are colloquially known as forever chemicals because of their ability to persist in the environment for thousands of years.

Certain pesticides also contain PFAS meaning they can make it into human bodies via food. PAN UK said despite evidence that forever chemicals are already present in the majority of people’s blood, there is relatively little UK research looking into the associated health problems – a situation it claimed was often used by the government and the chemicals industry to delay action.

It cited peer-reviewed studies conducted in other countries that have connected PFAS exposure to a range of serious health problems including an increased risk of cancer and decreases in both fertility and the immune system’s ability to fight infections.

The UK Government’s Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food (PRiF) tests roughly 2,500 one-kilogram samples of food each year for pesticide residues taken from the shelves of supermarkets and other food outlets across Great Britain. As well as strawberries, grapes, cherries, spinach, tomatoes and peaches were also found to have PFAS pesticides in over a third of samples, according to PAN UK’s research, while some spices were found to be contaminated as well.

Data for the year 2022 showed that 56.4% of samples tested contained pesticides below the maximum residue level allowed in food by law while 1.8% of the samples contained a pesticide residue above the legal level. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) undertakes screening and risk assessments for the pesticide residues found via the testing programme to determine whether the residues present could lead to someone eating an amount above a level that is considered safe.

PAN UK, however, suggested that our understanding of the effects on human health of ingesting PFAS remains inadequate. “Given the growing body of evidence linking PFAS to serious diseases such as cancer, it is deeply worrying that UK consumers are being left with no choice but to ingest these chemicals, some of which may remain in their bodies long into the future,” said Nick Mole, policy officer for PAN UK.

“With some plastic food packaging also contaminated with PFAS, and PFAS present in UK drinking water and soil, we urgently need to develop a better understanding of the health risks associated with ingesting these ‘forever chemicals’ and do everything we can to exclude them from the food chain.”