Responding to a request from the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA’s) Panel for Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM Panel) has published a statement on the presences of microplastics and nanoplastics in food, particularly seafood. According to the CONTAM panel, microplastics range in size from 0.1 to 5,000 μm and are either manufactured to that size (primary microplastics) or fragmented (secondary microplastics). Nanoplastics, which range in size from approximately 1 to 100 nm (0.001–0.1 μm), “originate from engineered material or can be produced during fragmentation of microplastic debris.”

After reviewing the scientific literature, the panel concludes that more work is needed to develop and standardize analytical methods for microplastics and nanoplastics “in order to assess their presence, identity and to quantify their amount in food.” As the statement notes, “Occurrence data are limited. In contrast to microplastics no methods or occurrence data in food are available for nanoplastics… Based on a conservative estimate the presence of microplastics in seafood would have a small effect on the overall exposure to additives or contaminants. Toxicity and toxicokinetic data are lacking for both microplastics and nanoplastics for a human risk assessment.”

“For microplastics and nanoplastics, occurrence data in food, including effects of food processing, in particular, for the smaller sized particles (< 150 μm) should be generated,” states the CONTAM Panel. “Research on the toxicokinetics and toxicity, including studies on local effects in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, are needed as is research on the degradation of microplastics and potential formation of nanoplastics in the human GI tract.” See EFSA News Release, June 23, 2016.