Are you looking for the best peanut butter & other nut butter without toxic PFAS “forever chemicals”? Indications of Per & polyfluoroalkyl substances known as PFAS, a class of man-made chemicals linked to adverse health effects, were found in peanut butter & other nut butters as part of a consumer study commissioned by Mamavation.
Since PFAS has already been found in everyday items like pasta sauce and makeup, Mamavation set about to find out if it was present in peanut butter and other nut butter like almond butter, cashew butter, hazelnut butter, pecan butter, tahini, & nut & seed butter. You’ve trusted Mamavation with topics like best air purifiers, safest cookware sans PFAS, & safest parchment paper sans PFAS, now join us for a consumer study on peanut butter and nut butter & indications of PFAS “forever chemicals.” Stick around till the end and we will share all the individual results of 33 popular nut butter products with you.
Disclosure: This consumer study is released in partnership with Environmental Health News. Scientific reviews were performed by (1) Terrence Collins, Teresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry & Director of Institute for Green Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, (2) Linda Birnbaum, Scientist Emeritus and Former Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program, (3) Pete Myers, Chief Scientist at Environmental Health Sciences, Adjunct Professor of Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University, and Co-Author of Our Stolen Future, & (4) Scott Belcher, Associate Professor with the Center for Environmental & Health Effects of PFAS at North Carolina State University. This post was medically reviewed by Sondra Strand, RN, BSN, PHN. Donations were provided by Environmental Health News and Mamavation community members. This post contains affiliate links.
Mamavation’s Main Findings of Peanut Butter & Other Nut Butters
PFAS “forever chemicals” are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances used as water-resistant, oil-resistant, and stain-resistant chemicals in commerce for decades. With over 12,000 different chemicals in their chemical class (including PFOA & PTFE), they are daunting to test and very difficult to identify. PFAS chemicals are considered ubiquitous, persistent, and toxic which is why they were dubbed “forever chemicals.” When they show up in food products, they are not added on purpose but are likely present due to manufacturing or packaging contamination of some kind in the supply chain.
Mamavation sent 33 products of nut butter to an EPA-certified laboratory to test for organic fluorine, which is a marker for PFAS “forever chemical” compounds. The nut butters included peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, sunflower butter, hazelnut butter, pecan butter, coconut butter, tahini, nut & seed butter, mixed butter, and soy-based butter. We purchased the products between September 2021 and February 2022 from Amazon.com, using Instacart, or in-store from retailers in Los Angeles and Boston.
Here are the main findings from Mamavation’s Nut Butter Consumer Study:
- 12% of nut butters tested at Mamavation’s EPA-certified lab had indications of PFAS “forever chemicals”, while 88% of nut butter tested did not. In other words, 4 out of 33 products contained indications of PFAS “forever chemicals.”
- According to our lab, levels of organic fluorine, a marker for PFAS, were found between 12 parts per million (ppm) to 32 parts per million (ppm).
- Products with detectable amounts of organic fluorine in 2021 were sent back to the lab in 2022 and tested again. All products tested again came back non-detect from our lab.
- 75% of the products with detectable levels of organic fluorine were USDA-certified organic products. In other words, 3 out of 4 detectable products were organic.
- The USDA organic certification does not have any rules or standards that prohibit use of PFAS as an indirect food additive used in manufacturing. Therefore, selecting an organic product does not mean you are selecting a PFAS-free product.
Industries Have Been Using PFAS “Forever Chemicals” For a Long Time
PFAS chemicals have been used for decades to create stain resistance, water resistance, and grease-proof qualities to which they are added. If you’ve heard of coatings such as “Teflon” on cookware, fabrics made from “Gore-tex” or treatments on carpets like “stain-master,” you’ve already heard about PFAS chemicals. Here’s more options:
- Textiles & Fabrics: PFAS chemicals are very commonly found in industries such as textiles & fabrics to create stain-resistance, water-resistance, or “sweat-wicking.” To help you here, Mamavation has tested athletic wear, sports bras, and period underwear. We’ve also conducted other consumer studies on bedding, children’s clothing, infant car seats, & jackets & raincoats.
- Food Packaging: In food packaging, they are used in popcorn bags, pizza boxes, fast food wrappers & canisters, and the flat dish on the bottom of cakes at the grocery store. Mamavation has also tested different parchment paper brands for indications of PFAS.
- Personal Care Products: Makeup has been notoriously guilty of using PFAS to create a waterproof or long-lasting effect in makeup products. So Mamavation tested the most popular green beauty makeup brands, and we are working on some other categories like tooth floss and feminine care products.
- Cookware: Most “non-stick” cookware is coated with PFAS chemicals, including some stainless steel cookware, and small kitchen appliances like air fryers. Check out Mamavation’s investigation on cookware.
- Carpeting & Flooring: PFAS has also been used in carpeting & flooring. Do you remember StainMaster™ carpet? That was PFAS. However, not all carpet has indications of PFAS. We recently tested one brand you can safely purchase. Mamavation also tested several bamboo flooring brands and found one brand that was free from PFAS.
- Furniture: Watch out for “stain-resistant” treatments on furniture.
- Fire Fighting Foam: PFAS was used in firefighting foams and they have unfortunately been used extensively around military bases and airports. If you live close to a military base or airport, check with your local water district to see if they have tested the water for PFAS.
- Metal Plating, Semiconductors, Lubrications & Coating Additives: Lots of industrial applications of PFAS are used to keep equipment from rusting, getting overheated, or provide water-resistant, or grease-resistant qualities.
- Drinking Water: Sadly, there are lots of places around the United States and all over the world that have drinking water contaminated with PFAS. Most of these areas are by military bases, airports, and other industrial parks that used PFAS for firefighting or other such uses. Luckily, Mamavation has done an investigation of the best water filters to remove PFAS.
- Car Wax, Ski Wax, & Surfboard Wax: Yes, you guessed it. PFAS is used here for its grease & water-resistant qualities.
- Some Processed Food: Mamavation has found indications of PFAS inside pasta & tomato sauces, cooking oils, and ketchup. We are presently working on other food categories right now to help.
Pete Myers, Chief Scientist at Environmental Health Sciences, Adjunct Professor of Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University, and Co-Author of Our Stolen Future has some thoughts to add on how PFAS are found everywhere.
“Tragically, PFAS are ubiquitous. They are a classic example of chemicals of immense utility from a chemical (and profit) perspective, but with serious health effects their manufacturers choose to ignore and hide. But not only are they ubiquitous, but they are also forever. Natural biological processes in our bodies or in the environment are no match for their persistence. No wonder Mamavation is finding them everywhere.”
Problematic Health Effects Linked to PFAS “Forever Chemicals”https://524d47e7ffc1bdaada832dccda57b0af.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
PFAS “forever chemicals” are problematic to human health and the environment. They are considered persistent, ubiquitous, and toxic. Many can last for years in our bodies. Therefore, it’s imperative to reduce the amount of PFAS you are exposed to from food and water.
Here’s a list of health effects PFAS chemicals are linked to presently:
- reduction in immunity
- reduced vaccination response
- increased risk of allergies & asthma in young children
- affect the growth, learning, and behavior of infants and older children
- increase cholesterol levels
- metabolic diseases like obesity & diabetes
- cardiovascular disease
- lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant
- lowers male fertility
- smaller penis size
- increase the risk of kidney & testicular cancers
- Causes endocrine disruption
- Disrupts normal thyroid function
Linda Birnbaum, Scientist Emeritus and Former Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program says “PFAS cause effects in males and females of animals and people in nearly every organ and at every life stage.”
If you feel like you’ve been exposed to PFAS, especially during pregnancy, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a division of Community Health Investigations has created this health advisory fact sheet to use when talking to your doctor. While regulatory authorities struggle to catch up, it would be wise to limit your daily exposure to PFAS markers within food like pasta sauce or ketchup. You don’t want indications of PFAS in your nut butter either.
How PFAS Can Get Into Peanut Butter & Other Nut Butters During Manufacturing
There are many ways that PFAS can contaminate peanut butter and other nut butters. From start to finish, peanut butter is a chore to produce with many steps needed to get it from nut to butter. It’s also possible that a raw ingredient could be contaminated somehow if other oils or other additives are used. Assuming the product is just peanuts & salt, here’s the full process of creating peanut butter, which is like how other nut butter is made (give or take a few steps).
In each step, if any part of the equipment is coated with a “non-stick” PTFE chemical like Teflon, or if a product touches fiberglass that contains PFAS, if the equipment is treated with fluorinated lubricants, or if any of the product touches fluorinated plastic, PFAS can leach into the nut butter. There are many opportunities where this can happen.
- Planting & harvesting–peanuts are planted in April and harvested from the ground in September. During the harvesting, peanuts are removed from their vines with manufacturing equipment called “portable mechanical pickers” and then delivered to warehouses for cleaning.
- Cleaning –the cleaning process uses “blowers” to remove dust, sand, dirt, vines, stems, leaves & empty shells.
- Shelling –this is the process by which the outer covering of the nut is removed. This process is where peanuts are passed through a series of rollers that crack them and then they repeatedly move through screens, blowers, magnets, and destoners. After this they are shaken, tumbled and air blown to ensure all the shells are removed.
- Dry roasting — This is a process by which heat is used without the use of oil or water. Peanuts will travel through an air roaster in a rocking motion that allows each nut to roast evenly. Meters indicate whether the cooking is complete and notice the change in color from white to light brown.
- Cooling — this is a process by which hot peanuts are passed into a perforated metal cylinder through suction fans and brought to 30 degrees Celsius.
- Blanching — in this process, the outer skins of the peanuts are removed by rubbing the peanuts together. The kernels are then split in two to remove the bitter heart of the peanut and then inspected on a conveyor belt. Because conveyor belts are sometimes made from fiberglass that has been treated with PFAS, this is also where PFAS can leach onto the peanuts.
- Grinding — during this process the peanuts are made into a paste and other ingredients (if used) are incorporated. It’s usually ground into a medium-size grind before it’s made into a fine smooth grind.
- Packing — Now it’s time to package the peanut butter into its jars–either glass or plastic. To prevent oxidation, manufacturers typically use vacuum packing when the peanut butter jars are being sealed. Jars are then labeled, placed in cartons, and stored. However, if the plastic that is used is fluorinated, trace amounts can get into the product.
While Mamavation is unsure how PFAS is getting into any specific batch of peanut butter and nut butter products we tested, the list above demonstrates the opportunities are legion. Food brands must guard against these possibilities.
Dr. Terrence Collins, Director of the Institute of Green Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University had something to say about the possibility of low dose toxicity of PFAS compounds in nut butters.
“Knowing what I know about the low dose toxicity of PFAS compounds, if I was running a nut butter company and someone told me PFAS compounds were in my products, I would have a fit. The top company priority immediately would be to get insidious PFAS compounds out of our nut butters. So I would have the personnel shift through everything from the nut planting and harvesting, cleaning, shelling, dry roasting, cooling, blanching, grinding and packing to prove to me that all PFAS potential sources had been identified and eliminated. I’d be just as worried about periodic as continuous sources of potential contamination. With its nut butter study, Mamavation has spotlit brands that have been looking really good in keeping their customer families safe from PFAS exposures and brands that needed a really good shake up. The good news is that nut butters that tested positive in 2021 were clean in 2022. Bravo Mamavation!”
How Do PFAS “Forever Chemicals” Get Into USDA Certified Organic Nut Butters?
We reached out to the Organic Trade Association to get a better understanding of how the USDA organic standards can impact the use of PFAS in food manufacturing. According to Reana Kovalcik, Director of Public Relations for the Organic Trade Association, “Certifiers review packaging and equipment as a potential source of contamination, but packaging material components like perchlorate or BPA (or PFAS) are regulated by the FDA and are classified as indirect food additives. PFAS as an indirect additive or residual contaminant is not specifically addressed by the organic regulations. Just like BPA, as an indirect additive, PFAS is outside of the scope of the NOP standards.” In other words, organic doesn’t prohibit the use of PFAS as an indirect additive in manufacturing.
The USDA Organic Standards do prohibit the use of biosolids (also known as “sewage sludge”) in use on the farm, which is really good news because wastewater treatment plants do not remove PFAS from sewage sludge. Thus, biosolids can contain PFAS. But in practical application, this may not matter because PFAS are so persistent and can stick around for decades in soil. Once they are on the land, they have staying power, which is why they are referred to as “forever chemicals.” Therefore, if biosolids were applied on farmland prior to gaining organic certification, they could still be present decades later. USDA organic certification does not require farmers to test their soil for PFAS so the consumer would have no way of assuring they were safe from PFAS through the organic certification.
Case in point, recently Songbird Farms, known for its heritage Maine grains, was the first organic farmstead (that only farms produce and not dairy or meat) to shut down its operations after finding PFAS on their property. They said in a statement on their website, “We were just blindsided to learn that our home farm and primary lease field were licensed for the spreading of bio-solids in the early 1990s, (24 years before we purchased our farm and moved to Unity).”
Therefore, the historic use of biosolids on an organic farm may impact the quality of what is produced on that farmstead. The organic food industry should evaluate the need of an addition to their certification process that tests and certifies food free from indications of PFAS and other types of plasticizers.
Demand Food & Drug Administration (FDA) Use Modern Science to Keep Our Families Safe
We know this is frustrating, but there are some ways you can help create change. Mamavation has joined with other organizations to demand the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) use modern science to keep our food and families safe. Join Mamavation, Consumer Reports, Environmental Working Group, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, Moms Clean Air Force, Environmental Defense Fund, and many others by vising ToxicFreeFoodFDA.org and follow the prompts to send a letter to the FDA to demand the following:
- Revoke existing approvals for per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) in food packaging and foodservice ware.
- Close the “Generally Recognized As Safe” aka “GRAS” loophole that the industry uses to self-certify the safety of new additives in secrecy
- Begin the process of modernizing the FDA’s scientific approach to assess the safety of chemicals in food. (Here’s more on that perspective and what the FDA will need to do from our main scientific advisor Pete Myers, Chief Scientist at Environmental Health Sciences, Adjunct Professor of Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University, and Co-Author of Our Stolen Future.)
- Ban ortho-phthalates in food contact articles, and lead as an additive to food handling equipment.
- Resolve two lawsuits regarding perchlorate in food contact articles.
- Create an office to reassess the safety of existing chemical additives to food to complement the Office of Food Additive Safety which is focused on new chemical safety reviews. Seek federal funding to support the office.
Final Results from Mamavation’s Investigation on Peanut Butters & Other Nut Butters
Mamavation sent 33 different brands and products of nut butter to the lab looking for organic fluorine, a test for PFAS “forever chemicals.” The products consisted of peanut butter, cashew butter, nut & seed butter, hazelnut butter, almond butter, sunflower seed butter, sesame seed butter (tahini), & pecan butter.
Mamavation’s lab used marker testing to identify the potential presence of PFAS “forever chemicals” in nut butter products. Organic fluorine is a marker for PFAS because all PFAS chemicals are carbon-based compounds that contain fluorine. The specific lab method used by Mamavation tested for total fluorine was the Determination of Total Fluorine by Oxygen Flask Combustion and Ion-Selective Electrode. If total fluorine was observed at a detection level of 10ppm, the lab did the Determination of free Fluoride Ion in the nut butter by Ion-Selective Electrode and then subtracted that from the Total Fluorine to determine the amount of organic fluorine. We then retested the same nut butters that had a detection many months later to see if they were still present.
Important note–There is currently no consensus on how to spot-check nut butter for PFAS. All methods at this point are non-validated. They nonetheless can still be used in revealing the presence of organic fluorine and spot-checking for indications of PFAS. Other contaminants that can be present in organic fluorine are fluorinated pesticides and fluorinated pharmaceuticals, both also concerning.
Scott Belcher, Ph.D. & Associate Professor with the Center for Environmental & Health Effects of PFAS at North Carolina State University says “fluoropolymers, such as polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) or Teflon®, are extremely common forms of PFAS that could be contributing to the organic fluorine found in food products. Methods used for detecting individual PFAS, such as PFOA or GenX, cannot directly identify PTFE. However, the analysis of total organic fluorine does account for all PFAS contaminants in food, including PTFE. Therefore, this serves as a good ‘spot-check’ of consumer products.”
Finally, we separated the list into the following categories to help with your shopping needs:
- “Not Our Favorite” list of nut butter consists of brands and products that tested for detectable organic fluorine at any time (either in 2021 or 2022) according to our lab.
- “Better” products have had non-detectable results at the laboratory but are not USDA-certified organic brands.
- “Best” are both USDA certified organic, but also had non-detectable results.
Not Our Favorite Peanut Butters & Other Nut Butters
Our EPA-certified lab found organic fluorine, a marker of PFAS, in these products. We do not recommend you purchase these products.
- Artisana Organic Cashew Butter — 32 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine in 2021, non-detect organic fluorine in 2022.
- Nutzo Organic Chocolate 7 Seed Nut Butter — 12 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine in 2021, non-detect organic fluorine in 2022.
- Smuckers Goober Strawberry & Peanut Butter — 17 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine in 2021, non-detect organic fluorine in 2022.
- Teddie Organic Peanut Butter — 18 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine in 2021, non-detect organic fluorine in 2022.
Better Peanut Butter & Other Nut Butters
The companies in this category had non-detect laboratory results at a detection level of 10 parts per million (ppm), yet they are not USDA organic. Because these nut butters are not organic, they can contain amounts of other toxic pesticides and contaminants that could be harmful.
- Barney Almond Butter Smooth — non-detect organic fluorine
- Fix & Fogg Almond Butter Cashew & Maple — non-detect organic fluorine
- Jif Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter — non-detect organic fluorine
- Justin’s Classic Peanut Butter — non-detect organic fluorine
- Kroger Creamy Peanut Butter — non-detect organic fluorine
- Laura Scudder’s All Natural Old Fashioned Peanut Butter — non-detect organic fluorine
- Natural Maranatha California Almond Butter — non-detect organic fluorine
- Purely Pecans Sea Salt Y’ll Pecan Butter — non-detect organic fluorine
- RX Nut Butter Vanilla Almond Butter — non-detect organic fluorine
- Skippy Creamy Peanut Butter — non-detect organic fluorine
- Soom Premium Tahini — non-detect organic fluorine
- SunButter Natural Sunflower Butter — non-detect organic fluorine
- Thrive Market Peanut Butter — non-detect organic fluorine
- Wild Friends Almond Cashew Super Butter with Honey, Chia & Flax — non-detect organic fluorine
- Wowbutter Natural Peanut Free Creamy Jar — n0n-detect organic fluorine
- YumButter Almond Butter — non-detect organic fluorine
Best Peanut Butter & Other Nut Butters
These brands are the ones we are recommending. The companies in this category had non-detect laboratory results at a detection level of 10 parts per million (ppm) AND they are USDA organic.
- Blue Stripes Organic Chocolate Hazelnut Butter — non-detect organic fluorine
- CB’s Nuts Organic Peanut Butter — non-detect organic fluorine
- Kirkland Organic Almond Butter — non-detect organic fluorine
- Nutiva Organic Coconut Manna — non-detect organic fluorine
- O Organics Old Fashioned Creamy Organic Peanut Butter — non-detect organic fluorine
- Once Again Organic Unsweetened Creamy Cashew Butter — non-detect organic fluorine
- Once Again Organic Unsweetened Creamy Sunflower Seed Butter — non-detect organic fluorine
- Pepperwood Organic Ethiopian Sesame Tahini — non-detect organic fluorine
- Philosopher Foods Sprouted Almond Butter Naked Creamy — non-detect organic fluorine
- Rawmio Organic Chocolate Hazelnut — non-detect organic fluorine
- Santa Cruz Organic Creamy Peanut Butter — non-detect organic fluorine
- Simple Organic Peanut Butter — non-detect organic fluorine
Other Mamavation PFAS Testing Projects
Mamavation has been working hard to discover where to find PFAS “forever chemicals” inside food & other products we purchase and bring inside our homes. Therefore, we have decided to commission our own consumer studies on indications of PFAS in different consumer categories and share that information with you.