Microplastics in foods

According to the definition of the European Chemicals Agency ECHA, microplastics are plastic particles with a diameter of less than five millimetres.

Numerous scientific studies have detected microplastic particles in foods, especially in fish, seafood and a range of fruits, and in mineral waters. A recognised, uniform analysis procedure for the clear detection of microplastic particles is required in order to provide definitive proof. A broad range of research activities on microplastics with different focuses and from different perspectives are being carried out at international, European, national and regional level. Improvements have been achieved in the analytical detection of particles as a result but there is still a need for further research. Microplastic particles can consist of a range of materials and have different sizes and structures. This is why precise characterisation of microplastic particles is required for scientific studies. Standardised analytical measuring procedures are also necessary for fail-safe detection in food inspection.

Research projects are currently being carried out and expert reports drawn up, for example by a range of government research institutions such as the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM), the Federal Institute of Hydrology (BfG), the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) and the Federal Environment Agency (UBA). The focus is on microplastic particle levels in the marine environment, the effects of microplastics on marine animals and how microplastics find their way into foods of marine origin. These research institutions are also working on the development of validated analytical detection methods for plastics and microplastics in water, soil, air and foods, for example.

There is now sufficient scientific evidence to prove that microplastic particles are ingested via food. However, due to the different analysis methods that have been used and in some cases a lack of characterisation, a direct comparison of the levels of microplastic particles in foods investigated in a range of studies is not possible. But these studies do provide initial findings on the occurrence of microplastic particles in the foods that have been investigated.

It has not yet been established whether eating food such as fish and seafood can lead to significant ingestion of microplastic particles. Further research is required in this area.

Most particles ingested through the mouth are very likely to pass through the digestive system and be excreted. Studies on rodents indicate this. The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment is currently not aware of any cases in which microplastic particles ingested orally have been proven to harm human health.

Further research and reliable data are required before a conclusive risk assessment of microplastic particles in foods is possible.

Where pollutants are entering foods through microplastic particles, the legally binding EU-wide and national maximum levels for residues and contaminants apply for numerous pollutants. If these maximum levels are exceeded, the products cannot be placed on the market and may not be sold to consumers.

Last updated: 16.08.2023

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