Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (i.e. PFAS chemicals) are showing up in all sorts of products like period underwear, bamboo flooring, and parchment paper, but what about old-fashioned ketchup? Mamavation sent out 12 store-bought ketchup products to an EPA-certified lab looking for indications of PFAS and are reporting back those findings. You’ve trusted Mamavation to bring you topics like safest cookware sans PFAS and nanomaterials, safest organic mattresses without PFAS, and safest deodorants sans nasty chemicals, now join us for our latest investigation looking at store-bought ketchup and indications of PFAS contamination.
Disclosure: This post was scientifically reviewed by Hannah Gardener, Epidemiologist from A Green Slate. This post was also medically reviewed by Sondra Strand, RN, BSN, PHN. This post contains affiliate links.
PFAS “Forever Chemicals” are Toxic, Persistent, & Ubiquitous
PFAS (aka PFCs or perfluorinated chemicals, including PFOA and PFOS) are added to many products we purchase to make them “stain-resistant,” “grease-proof,” and “water-resistant.” In food packaging, they are used in popcorn bags, pizza boxes, fast food canisters & wrappers, the flat dish on the bottom of cakes, or certain “safe” plastics like polyethylene and polypropylene.
They are also in carpeting, furniture, & clothing as “stain-proof” agents and you’ll find them on non-stick pans, some tooth flosses, and cosmetics. Mamavation has also tested and found indications of them in bamboo flooring, parchment paper, & period underwear,
PFAS chemicals are pretty much everywhere, which is why they are referred to as being ubiquitous. To underscore that point, researchers have found that 98% of people in the United States have some of these chemicals (PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS, and PFNA) inside their bodies. Coupled with the fact that close to 100% of samples of breastmilk show traces of PFAS, it’s apparent how ubiquitous they really are.
These chemicals are also persistent, which means they build up in your body over time and do not go anywhere for several years. Therefore it’s very important to minimize the amount of PFAS chemicals you are exposed to, even if those levels are very small. Unless you avoid PFAS, your exposure level would only increase over time, which can lead to disease.
Here is the list of health problems (PFAS) perfluorinated chemicals are linked with.
- reduction in immunity
- metabolic diseases like obesity & diabetes
- reduced vaccination response
- cardiovascular disease
- affect the growth, learning, and behavior of infants and older children
- increased risk of allergies & asthma in young children
- lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant
- increase the chances of miscarriage
- increase cholesterol levels
- low sperm count
- smaller penis size
- increase the risk of cancer like testicular & kidney cancers
If you’d like to talk to your doctor about yow own exposure to PFAS, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a division of Community Health Investigations has created this fact sheet to use.
Challenges Behind PFAS Testing of Ketchup, Cosmetics & Consumer Products
In terms of testing for PFAS, there are some major problems, we want to alert you to. There are over 9,000 PFAS chemicals if you count up all the “short-chain” and “long-chain” ones in the chemical category. Because of the amount of PFAS chemicals, it’s literally impossible to directly test and identify all of them, and especially which ones they are. Good laboratories can identify between 60-80 of them, and some university labs can identify about 150 of them, but that pales in comparison to how many there are in commerce. The reason there is no way to directly identify all of them is because the chemical companies that produce them have not released the assays the labs need to identify them.
So what are brands supposed to do? The food packaging industry decided to solve this issue by testing for total fluorine, which is the element all PFAS chemicals have in common. BPI Industries uses the standard of testing for total fluorine to determine if a food packaging brand is “compostable” and if PFAS was intentionally added, so we’ve done the same. When they discover over 100ppm of fluorine, they consider those levels “intentionally added” and they are not able to be compostable.
It’s important to note that this testing is not foolproof, but it is the best thing we have right now because there is no other standard or way to test and identify them all. Most of what would come up in total fluorine testing is very likely to be a PFAS chemical, but it is possible for chemicals like fluoride (which is different than fluorine) or certain pharmaceuticals from water to get caught up in this testing and then counted in the total fluorine amounts. Yes, even though fluoride is not allowable in more than 4ppm in drinkable water sources via the EPA.
Having said all that, since Mamavation is a precautionary community, we are not recommending any brand of ketchup that has detectable levels of total fluorine.
Possible Ways PFAS Can Get Into Ketchup (Based on Other Industries)
Ketchup is a very unique product because it contains tomatoes, which are very acidic and are more likely to have contamination issues. Leaching can happen when heat, acid, or high fat is present during the manufacturing process. Therefore, because of the likelihood of tomatoes causing plastics and other equipment to leach, we took a hard look at this category and we found some issues.
Mamavation has been testing various industries for indications of PFAS contamination and we have interviewed countless experts on the manufacturing of different products that are found to have PFAS. What we’ve learned about different industries can be of help to the ketchup industry as they are trying to ascertain where the potential contamination points are coming from.
The one industry we have been investigating for indications of PFAS that we believe may be of note is the cosmetic industry. In our interviews with cosmetic industry insiders, we found there are some similar points of contamination at the manufacturing level that may also be happening in the ketchup industry. They are the following:
- Manufacturing Equipment: Sometimes manufacturing equipment, like paddles used to stir a formulation or conveyor belts, are covered or made with “non-stick” Teflon chemicals to keep batches of the product from sticking to equipment and thus making them easier to clean. Those chemicals can leach PFAS into the product and you’ll find it in contamination levels that are well below 30 ppm.
- Plastics: Plastic manufacturers sometimes fluorinate polyethylene and polypropylene plastics and do not alert brands of this. Why do they do this? Because the safer plastics have a tendency to warp over time when they interact with certain ingredients and look to be tampered with. So in order to keep brands happy, they just fluorinate those plastics when they anticipate those types of ingredients to be present. (Yes, we have worked with cosmetic brands that have had this happen to them after we tested and alerted them of levels under 30 ppm.)
- Cleaning Products: Sometimes manufacturers use cleaning products that are full of different types of fluorine chemicals like potassium fluoride, sodium fluoride, aluminum fluoride and trace amounts of those chemicals can come off into a batch of products under 30 ppm.
- Lubrication Chemicals: Sometimes FDA-approved PFAS chemicals approved as “indirect additives” are sprayed onto manufacturing equipment to allow for batches to pass through the machine quicker. When this happens, sometimes traces of those chemicals can find themselves in the product at levels below 30 ppm.
- Fluorinated Pharmaceuticals (and Agrochemicals): Some fluorinated pharmaceuticals (and agrochemicals) can find their way into the water supply and if that water is not properly filtered before usage, these pharmaceuticals can end up in a final product. An example of this would be certain drugs used to treat psychosis, steroids, and Prozac. These chemicals aren’t necessarily made from PFAS chemicals, but still concerning.
SOLUTION: Food & Beverage Brands Need to Start Independently Testing & Identifying PFAS Contamination
Because of the ubiquitousness of PFAS in manufacturing, it’s important for brands to start testing their products independently (within the packaging as consumers are exposed to it) in order to ensure customers are not eating food with PFAS contamination.
Then if they find it, they need to either work with that manufacturer to stop exposing their consumers through their practices and equipment OR find another manufacturer that has safer practices and equipment. In the case of ketchup, it may be simply to ensure that the manufacturer doesn’t have equipment coated with a Teflon chemical.
Want to Avoid PFAS “Forever Chemicals” in Ketchup? Consider Making Ketchup at Home
Even though there may be an indication that PFAS “Forever Chemicals” have contaminated the ketchup industry, there are still things you can do (other than purchasing the products we did not detect them in.) One of the solutions is to try making your own ketchup at home.
We reached out to several amazing food bloggers and compiled a list of different recipes you can try at home. We also previewed their ingredients so you can ensure you are not allergic to anything.
- Fermented Ketchup from Nourished Kitchen. (Ingredients: Tomato paste, maple syrup, onion powder, ground allspice, celery seed powder, finely ground real salt, starter culture, & raw apple cider vinegar.)
- How to Make Fermented Ketchup from A Girl Worth Saving. (Ingredients: Garlic Cloves, tomato paste, fish sauce, B grade maple syrup, whey, cayenne, dry mustard, clove powder, & sea salt.)
- Keto Low Carb Sugar-Free Ketchup from Wholesome Yum. (Ingredients: Tomato paste, water, powdered sweetener, white vinegar, sea salt, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, ground cloves, & mustard powder.)
- Easy Homemade Ketchup from The Petite Cook. (Ingredients: Tomato paste, white vinegar, water, onion powder, garlic powder, cinnamon powder, maple syrup, & salt & pepper.
- How to Make Fermented Ketchup from Health Starts in the Kitchen. (Ingredients: Tomato paste, sugar, whey, organic raw apple cider vinegar (with mother), sea salt, ground allspice, & ground cloves.)
- How to Make Tomato Ketchup from Sew Right. (Ingredients: onions, celery, vegetable oil, garlic cloves, coriander, cinnamon stick, cayenne pepper powder, salt & pepper, tomato puree, ripe tomatoes, caster sugar, Tobasco sauce, white wine vinegar, & lemons.)
Mamavation’s Investigation of Store-Bought Ketchup Products
Mamavation collected 12 brands of ketchup in August and September of 2021 and sent them off to an EPA-certified laboratory to test for detectable total fluorine. The lab used determination of total fluorine by oxygen flask combustion and ion-selective electrode analysis. The Level of Detection was 10 parts per million, meaning if there was fluorine below that amount, we would not detect it.
The first three samples of detectable fluorine we received (Hunts, Trader Joe’s & FODY) made us wonder if it was coming from the plastic, so we also had the plastic tested for fluorine. All the plastic came back non-detect so we stopped testing them. Those brands are marked on the investigation.
Our findings came up with some bad news. Over 65% of the store-bought ketchup we tested came up with detectable levels of fluorine, which indicates possible PFAS. This potential contamination of PFAS chemicals in manufacturing looks to be widespread in the ketchup industry. We strongly suggest these brands immediately begin independently testing their product within the packaging, identifying where these potential issues are coming from, and clean up their products and processing methods.
Not Our Favorite Ketchup
These ketchup brands were sent to the lab and came back with detectable fluorine, which is indicative of PFAS. Because we are a precautionary community, we cannot recommend any of these ketchup brands. Below you will find the products and levels they came back with. The detection of fluorine in ketchup suggests the source is either (or both) environmental contamination or the migration of PFAS into the product during food processing, which the FDA classifies as an “indirect food additive” that food brands must ensure with reasonable certainty poses no harm to human health – a finding that no one had made to the best of our knowledge.
- Annie’s Organic Ketchup — 13 parts per million (ppm) fluorine
- FODY Ketchup — 13 parts per million (ppm) fluorine *(Plastic was also tested and it came back non-detect)
- Hunt’s Ketchup — 12 parts per million (ppm) fluorine *(Plastic was also tested and it came back non-detect)
- Organicville Made With Agave Nectar Ketchup – 15 parts per million (ppm) fluorine
- Primal Kitchen Organic & Unsweetened Ketchup — 15 parts per million (ppm) fluorine
- Sir Kensington’s Classic Ketchup — 18 parts per million (ppm) fluorine
- Trader Joe’s Ketchup — 11 parts per million (ppm) fluorine *(Plastic was also tested and it came back non-detect)
- True Made Foods Veggie Ketchup — 16 parts per million (ppm) fluorine
These brands did not test with any detectable fluorine at a Detection Level of 10ppm, however, they contain high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which we avoid. Because we do not recommend other ingredients inside the formulation of these brands, we put them here in “better” for you to see.
- Heinz Classic Tomato Ketchup in glass bottle — non-detect
- Heinz Individual Ketchup Packets (collected from In-N-Out) — non-detect
These brands were sent to the lab and came back with non-detectable amounts of fluorine with a Level of Detection of 10ppm. The ingredients inside these brands tested the lowest and we believe are suitable for your family.
- 365 Whole Foods Market Tomato Ketchup — non-detect
- Heinz Organic Certified Tomato Ketchup — non-detect
Conclusion of Mamavation’s Ketchup Investigation of Potential PFAS
After finding detectable fluorine in over 65% of the ketchup products we tested, we want to know what you think? It’s very possible that these levels are from manufacturing contamination of Teflon or other types of chemicals.
- Do you purchase any of these brands? Tell us which ones.
- How do you feel about the levels we found?
- Do you use any “non-stick” cookware at home? Would it bother you if your ketchup company was manufacturing the ketchup with “non-stick” equipment? Why?
- Do you give any thought to PFAS chemicals leaching into your food?
- What do you think companies that were found with some detectable fluorine should do about this?
And finally, are there any other industries you would like us to test for indications of PFAS? Thank you!