Nearly 90% of food products contain microplastics, according to a new study by researchers at Ocean Conservancy and the University of Toronto, published in Environmental Pollution journal.
Many of us are familiar with the depressing idea that fish and seafood contain microplastics due to plastic pollution in our planet’s oceans and seas. However, with microplastic pollution occurring in all our planet’s ecosystems, and even in newborns, it perhaps comes as no surprise that not only fish and seafood, but land-sourced food products, such as meat cuts as well as vegetarian and vegan alternatives, have all now been found to contain plastic.
“Fresh” food as well as processed
The research team, led by Madeleine Milne, examined 16 different types of protein, varying from “fresh” produce, such as fish fillets, shrimp, chicken breasts and pork loin cuts to more processed foods such as burgers, plant-based burgers, meat and non-meat “nuggets” and even tofu. Disturbingly, microplastics were found in all of them and in 88 percent of the individual samples. In even worse news, there appeared to be no statistical difference between the different types of produce and plastic particle concentration levels.
There’s no escaping them no matter what you eat, it seems.Dr Britta Baechler, Associate Director of Plastics Science at Ocean Conservancy
“There’s no escaping them no matter what you eat, it seems,” said study co-author Dr Britta Baechler, a marine biologist and Associate Director of Plastics Science at Ocean Conservancy, who called the research “a startling reminder of just how prolific plastic pollution has become.”
Meanwhile Milne noted that more research is needed. “It’s tempting to want to draw conclusions like ‘eat less of this and more of that’ to avoid microplastics in your diet; but right now we still know very little about the microplastic burdens in commonly consumed foods,” Milne commented. “Our study adds to this knowledge but also demonstrates the need for further research to better understand the bigger picture, including where these microplastics are coming from and the potential human health risks.”
Inflammation and brain degeneration
As well as fibres, which come from clothes and textiles and are the largest proportion (44%) of the microplastics found, there were so-called “fragments” (30%) and four other types of microplastics: films, rubber, fibre bundles, and foams. It is not yet fully understood what the impact of these different forms of microplastics on human health is.
Some of those health risks though, according to a University of Vienna-led study last year, could include increased inflammation and the risk of degenerative disorders in the brain, which can absorb plastics from the bloodstream within two hours of eating.