EU Science Hub

Review of micro- and nanoplastic contamination in the food chain

Abstract: 

Whereas the dramatic environmental impact of plastic waste rightfully receives considerable attention by scientists, policy makers and public in general, the human health impact of micro- and nanoplastics contamination of our food and beverages remains largely unknown. Indeed, most studies aim at understanding the environmental impact rather than the human health impact of a possible exposure to micro- and nanoplastics. In addition, these papers generally lack a methodological, standardised approach. Furthermore, some studies focus on the damages and contamination level of animal species collected from the wild environment, and others investigate the rate and biology of microplastic uptake of animals fed with microplastics in laboratory. This review aims at understanding human exposure. Since there is, with few exceptions, no evidence available on the presence of micro- and nanoplastics in a normal diet, this study takes an indirect approach and analyses peer-reviewed publications since 2010 that document the presence of micro- and nanoplastics in those animals (more than 200 species) and food products that are part of the human food chain and that may thus contribute directly or indirectly to the uptake of micro- and nanoplastics via the human diet. It also addresses the question of the definitions, the methodologies and the quality criteria applied to obtain the reported results. This review suggests that, beyond a few estimations and comparisons, precise data to assess the exact exposure of humans to micro- and nanoplastics through their diet cannot be produced until standardised methods and definitions are available.