Another route of accumulation of
microplastics is external exposure when
microplastics contact the outer surfaces
of the organism and are translocated
from the outside into the organism. The
extent of external exposure depends on
the concentration and size distribution
of the microplastic particles and upon
the specific nature of the organism.
Microplastic Contamination of Food
Recent studies on microplastics in
seafood have confirmed that commercially important fish species such as
Atlantic cod and Atlantic horse mackerel are often contaminated with microplastics.
6 According to the Food and
Agriculture Organization of the United
7 of the 25 fish species of commercial significance, 11 were found to
Several researchers have conducted
extensive surveys on the extent of contamination of marine and freshwater
species with microplastics. Foremost
among them was the study conducted
by van Cauwenberghe and Janssen,
who calculated that in European countries with high shellfish consumption,
consumers ingest up to 11,000 microplastic particles per year, whereas in
countries with low shellfish consumption, consumers ingest an average of
1,800 microplastic particles per year.
The European Commission’s Rapid
Alert System for Food and Feed’s portal
and the European Food Safety Authority’s website report the presence of these
contaminants in a wide variety of human food items.
Studies have also been conducted
on the concentration of microplastics
in other food products, such as beer,
honey, salt, drinking water, and mineral
Microplastics and Food Safety
The study of microplastic contamination of food products and its impact
on human food safety is an emerging
field, and there are many gray areas.
Risk associated with ingestion of microplastics into the human body is a func-
A Microplastics Problem
The world has a problem with plastic. It is a widely reported environmental issue, but its impact in the food industry has been somewhat under-re-ported. It is estimated that 8 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean each
year, which impacts both the food chain and water supply. Food packaging
products and polyethylene bags are the most common sources of plastic, but
these items represent only the visible plastic pollutants. The larger plastics
will eventually fragment
into smaller particles,
known as microplastics.
Microplastics are typically smaller than 5 mm
in diameter, meaning that
their presence in commodities can easily go undetected without regular
sampling. It is reported that microplastics are present in various food products, including seafood, as well as in bottled water. In addition, microplastics
can also help introduce other contaminants to foods. Persistent organic
pollutants and other toxins in water can also be attracted to these particles.
Once consumed by plankton, these contaminants are passed through the
food chain to small fish and eventually to humans. While their impact on human health is currently debated, high volumes of microplastics in rats have
been found to cause cancer.
Specific characterization techniques must therefore be employed to identify these particles that are too small to be seen by the naked eye. Discovering how samples become contaminated relies on accurately and swiftly
identifying the contaminants, the majority of which are the most common
plastics, including polyethylene, polystyrene, polyethylene terephthalate, and
polypropylene, which possess key functional groups that allow simple identification from spectral analysis. PerkinElmer is an innovator and pioneer of
infrared (IR) spectroscopy techniques. Particularly for microplastics detection,
the Spotlight 400™ FT-IR imaging system makes detection and identification
of microplastics in food products and beverages simple.
– Ian Robertson, Senior Applications Scientist
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tion of hazard and exposure. Evaluating
the risks from microplastics requires
knowledge of the hazard (the potential
to cause adverse effects), exposure levels
(the quantities detected in human food),
and their effects (the identification of
dose-response relationships and threshold levels).
Microplastics may act as vehicles or
carriers for environmental contaminants
and other chemicals that are added
during their manufacturing process.
Chemicals such as styrene, toxic metals,
phthalates, bisphenol A, polychlorinated biphenyls, and polycyclic aromatic