What do we know about microplastics in food?


MOST of the plastics produced globally are used for food and beverage packaging. During its use, how-ever, plastic becomes worn and breaks into small fragments called microplastics. In this Honest Nutri-tion Feature, we explain the potential dangers of microplastics, how food becomes contaminated with them, and ways to reduce exposure.

Globally, 322 million Trusted Source metric tons of plastics were produced in 2016, of which 60%Trusted Source supplied the food and beverage industry for food packaging. These plastics contain an array of chemicals, including stabilizers, lubri-cants, fillers, and plasticizers.

Exposure to some environmental conditions, such as heat, causes plastic to break into smaller fragments called microplastics, which can migrate into food.

Single-use water bottles, to-go containers, food cans, and storage wraps are examples of common plastic-based food packaging that contains microplastics.

Heating food in plastic packaging, long storage times, and the type of plastic packaging a person uses all affect Trusted Source the amount of the microplastics and their harmful chemicals that migrates into food.

The microplastic chemicals present in food are a mixture Trusted Source of those that manufacturers deliberately add, such as fillers and stabilizers, and those that accumulate as by products, such as resi-dues and impurities.

Microplastics found in smaller quantities in food include BPA and BPF, mono-(3-carboxypropyl), mono-(carboxyisononyl), and mono-(carboxyisoctyl).

Microplastics are the fragments of stabilizers, lubri-cants, fillers, plasticizers, and other chemicals that manufacturers use to give plastics their desirable properties Trusted Source, such as transparency, flexibility, and durability.

However, experts have classified many of these chemicals as toxic and harmful to human health. Below, we discuss some of the dangers of mi-croplastics in greater detail.

Scientists consider at least 15Trusted Source of the chemicals manufacturers use to make plastic pack-aging to be endocrine disruptors.

Endocrine disruptors are structurally similar Trusted Source to some hormones in the body — such as estrogen, testosterone, and insulin — and mimic and disrupt their natural functions, leading to adverse health effects and increasing a person’s risk of chronic conditions.

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