CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation), Australia-based science agency, has published a new report claiming that plastics could be a threat to food safety and security.
Micro and nanoplastics are prevalent in the food chain and may have a global impact on food safety and security.
The study is one of the first to examine the academic literature on microplastics from the standpoint of food safety and security risk, building on previous research that largely monitored plastics in fish.
It demonstrates that plastics and their additions are present in varying proportions not only in fish but also in a variety of other goods such as meat, poultry, rice, water, take-away food and drink, and even fresh produce.
Dr. Jordi Nelis, CSIRO analytical chemist, food safety specialist and lead author of the paper stated that said these plastics enter the human food chain through numerous pathways, such as ingestion as shown in the fish studies, but one of the main ways is through food processing and packaging.
“Fresh food for example can be plastic free when it’s picked or caught but contain plastics by the time it’s been handled, packaged and makes its way to us,” Dr Nelis added.
“Machinery, cutting boards, plastic wrapping can all deposit micro and nanoplastics onto our food that we then consume. This study highlights the need to understand what plastic could end up in food to manage food safety and security,” he further said.
Biosolids derived from wastewater treatment are another key channel for these pollutants to infiltrate our agricultural system.
These particles may accumulate in the soil and alter its structure over time, affecting agricultural output, food security, and ecosystem resilience. Plastic items, for example, can ‘prevent’ the beneficial bacteria in the soil into believing they are plant roots, resulting in the plants receiving fewer nutrients.
The study also examined how chemicals in plastics that aid in the functionality of plastic in our modern world might seep into our environment, potentially contaminating our food supply. Flame retardants, heavy metals, phthalates, hardeners, and other chemical compounds are examples of additives that make plastic flexible or resistant to UV radiation.
There are currently no conclusive studies suggesting that micro and nanoplastics in the environment cause harm to humans; nevertheless, further research is required to completely understand the health impacts.
Additional research is also required to better understand the impacts of plastics and their additives on food safety and security, as well as to develop improved analytical tools for monitoring, assessing, and establishing safe levels in food, drinking water, and agroecosystems.
“The key missing information is determining safe levels of microplastics. We currently don’t know exactly what the microplastic flux through the food system is or which levels can be considered safe,” Dr Nelis said.
He stated that customers can help minimise micro and nanoplastics from cycling through the ecosystem.
“On average Australians discard 100 kg of plastic waste each year, so use fewer plastics especially in the kitchen and wash your clothes a little less often, on shorter cycles,” Dr Nelis said.
CSIRO is on a mission to eliminate plastic waste, with an aim of reducing plastic trash entering the Australian ecosystem by 80% by 2030.