More than 230,000 microplastics could be in your holiday dinner: study

The holiday dinner many are looking forward to this season could come with an unexpected ingredient— plastic.

That’s because a new study published in November from researchers at the University of Portsmouth in England has found that a roast dinner can contain a “staggering” number of microplastics.

Microplastic particles are plastics that are smaller than five millimetres in size, according to a press release from the school.

The university’s study explored whether meal ingredients packaged in plastic would result in more microplastic particles found in the food items

Fay Couceiro, a reader in biochemistry and environmental pollution at the university, conducted the small study by examining two separate roast dinners. Both dinners contained chicken, potatoes, carrots, broccoli, and yorkshire pudding, but one meal was made with ingredients that had been bought wrapped in plastic, while the other was not.

The food made from the plastic-wrapped items contained “seven times more microplastics than the non-plastic wrapped one,” according to the university’spress release about the study’s findings. In total, about 230,000 microplastic particles were found.

This indicates that “plastic packaging is a major route for plastics getting into our bodies,” the release states. Eating one plastic-wrapped dinner each day would amount to about two plastic bags consumed each year, according to the research. 

“From the results it would appear that the majority of microplastics in our food come from the plastic packaging it is wrapped in. However, there are other ways that plastic can enter the food chain. It could be getting into the vegetables through the soil or into our meat through grazing,” said Couceiro in the press release.

She also said that air contains microplastics as well, so “they could be falling on top of the food.” As well, the plastics could be coming from the cooking utensils also used when preparing a meal, she explained.

This study differs from the findings of others,as researchers examined what was on the plate after the food had been cooked, as opposed to analyzing raw ingredients in a lab, she said.

“It is likely the microplastics will come from a combination of within the food, the packaging, the cooking utensils and the air,” she said.

Professor Shaji Sebastian, a consultant gastroenterologist at Hull University Teaching Hospital in England said in the press release the results of the study are surprising and indicates research into microplastics should be “urgent”.

“The key is to understand, what are microplastics doing to the body? Do they go to the organs?,” he said. “Those are critical questions that need to be looked into,”he said.

A review study published in 2020 from academics in Italy explained that the implications of microplastics on the human body are not yet thoroughly understood.

The researchers found that the intake of microplastics by humans has been well-established. However, only plastics smaller than 20 micrometres would be able to penetrate organs, and particles would have to be 10 micrometres or less to access all organs and the brain. Ten micrometres is about the diametre of a human blood cell.

However, research published in 2021 by U.K. researchers found that microplastics can cause damage to human cells in the laboratory at levels that are considered normal for people to ingest through their food. But the health impact remains unclear, as researchers are unsure how long plastics remain in the body before they exit through waste.

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