Food safety and quality

Does our food expose us to unsafe levels of microplastics?


A new FAO publication looks into this question. The document, titled Microplastics in food commodities – A food safety review on human exposure through dietary sources, outlines the existing literature on the occurrence of microplastics and their associated contaminants in foods. It also estimates the dietary exposure of consumers to these materials; highlights some knowledge gaps with respect to their relevance to public health; and offers some recommendations for future work on microplastic particles to support food safety governance.

Micro- and nanoplastics have been detected in fishery products and other food commodities, raising concerns about their impact on human health. Eating food is considered one of most significant routes of human exposure to small plastic particles. Concerns may arise about the microplastics, as well as their associated additives and contaminants, which several studies have reported to be neurotoxic, and lead to oxidative stress and immunotoxicity.

According to the document, the reported levels of microplastics and their exposure levels are generally low but there are challenges to highlight, namely a lack of:

  • data on exposure through certain food commodities;
  • knowledge on the toxicity of micro- and nanoplastics; and
  • standardized analytical methods to formulate definitive conclusions on the public health significance of the particles.

Among the recommendations made in the publication are to:

  • develop, fine-tune and harmonize analytical techniques for microplastics in food;
  • further investigate the occurrence and toxicity of these substances in food value chains; and
  • evaluate acute and chronic exposures to microplastics and associated additives in various foods.

“The main purpose of this report is to promote better understanding of the risks posed by microplastics in food,” said Esther Garrido Gamarro, FAO Fishery Officer, emphasizing that it could also support future exposure assessments and the development of legislation and guidance documents to reduce the risk of microplastic contamination in food production, processing, distribution and consumption.

Download the report here

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