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Micro‐ and nanoplastics: risk after oral exposure via food products

Micro‐ and nanoplastics: risk after oral exposure via food products

Plastics are used ubiquitously and have become part of our everyday life. The global production of plastics is rising, which in consequence is leading to increasing amounts of plastics being released into the environment.

Recently, the issue of human exposure to micro‐ and nanoplastic particles and potentially resulting toxicological consequences has been broached, triggered by the discovery of microplastics in foodstuff. In addition to dietary exposure via contaminated food and beverages, other exposure paths such as via air and cosmetics, have to be considered.

Currently there is no legislation for microplastics and nanoplastics as contaminants in food. Substantial data gaps with respect to exposure as well as toxicity of such particles impede the risk assessment. Recent publications suggest that different types of food and beverages are contaminated with microplastic particles, underlining the relevance of human exposure. Especially smaller particles, which are in a size range of several micro- or millimetre, gained public attention. Up to now, little is known about the risk for human health caused by exposure to micro- and nanoplastics via the diet.

With the focus on risk assessment, there are still many data gaps which need to be addressed:

  • First, the detection and quantification of microplastics is still very challenging and available analytical methods are not suitable for all size ranges and food matrices. Detection methods need to be established and validated.
  • Second, microplastics contain a broad mixture of materials, surface properties and material characteristics. Therefore, general statements about ‘microplastics’ need to be specified in detail to different particle types and cases.
  • Third, little is known about possible effects which can be caused by the oral consumption of microplastic particles. No systematic human exposure studies are available, and data from in vitro studies or in vivo animal experiments are scarce


Source: EFSA Journal 2020;18():e181102

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