GLOBAL – A new Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) publication has revealed that Micro- and nanoplastics have been detected in fishery products and other food commodities, raising concerns about their impact on human health.

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.

“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.

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.

As plastics they are made of polymeric chains, which in turn consist of monomers, some of which may be present in an unreacted form and may thus interact with biological molecules upon ingestion.

Concerns may also stem from the fact that some plastic polymer components (such as vinyl chloride) are known to be toxic.

Residues of other (potentially) harmful chemicals used in the plastic manufacturing process e.g. bisphenol A and phthalates, may also be found in the final product and their fragments.

Additionally, microplastics are noted as having the potential to sorb and concentrate various food safety hazards from the surrounding environment.

According to the document, despite the reported levels of microplastics and their exposure levels being generally low, challenges like a lack of data on exposure through certain food commodities and knowledge on the toxicity of micro- and nanoplastics still exist.

Lack of standardized analytical methods to formulate definitive conclusions on the public health significance of the particles is also a challenge.

To this end, the publication recommends that analytical techniques for microplastics in food should be developed, fine-tuned and harmonized.

 It also advocates for further investigation of the occurrence and toxicity of these substances in food value chains, and evaluation of acute and chronic exposures to microplastics and associated additives in various foods.

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