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New investigation reveals traditional roast dinner contains 230,000 microplastics

New investigation reveals traditional roast dinner contains 230,000 microplastics

Image shows GMB reporter Michelle Morrison with her children and Dr Fay Couceiro from University of Portsmouth.

Plastic policy @ Portsmouth

4 min read Partner content

New research by the University of Portsmouth in partnership with Good Morning Britain, has revealed that enjoying just one traditional roast dinner can lead to ingesting 230,000 microplastics (microplastics are any plastics that are smaller than 5mm in size). Furthermore, eating one roast dinner everyday - or a similar meal everyday - would equate to eating two plastic bags each year.

GMB reporter Michelle Morrison, alongside her 9-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son, made two separate roast dinners at home with the same ingredients - chicken, potatoes, carrots, broccoli and yorkshire pudding. However, one meal was made with ingredients that had all been bought wrapped in plastic versus the second meal, for which most of the ingredients had been purchased without any plastic packaging at all i.e. loose. 

The roast made from ingredients wrapped in plastic contained seven times more microplastics than the non plastic-wrapped one, showing that plastic packaging is a major route for plastics getting into our bodies. In addition, the non-packaged items cost 37% less than those bought wrapped.

Dr Fay Couceiro, Reader in Environmental Pollution at the University of Portsmouth, tested both roast dinners and explained: “From the results it would appear that the majority of microplastics in our  food come from the plastic packaging it is wrapped in. However, there are other ways that plastic can enter the food chain. It could be getting into the vegetables through the soil or into our meat through grazing. Air has lots of microplastics in it too, so they could be falling on top of the food and finally it could be from the cooking utensils used when preparing a meal.”

Dr Couceiro continued: “Usually food samples are analysed for microplastics in their raw state under laboratory conditions. This allows us to understand how much plastic is inside a particular type of food. This study differs because we chose to look at what was actually on your plate after the food had been cooked. Instead of a sterile laboratory, the food was cooked in a normal kitchen, so it is likely the microplastics will come from a combination of within the food, the packaging, cooking utensils and the air.”  

Michelle Morrison, Reporter, Good Morning Britain added: “Previously there has been very little research into the amount of microplastics contained within an entire meal. Our new investigation has clearly found that we eat far less microplastics when we reduce the amount of packaging we buy. 

“What we now need to know is, are these microplastics harmless or, like many believe, are they actually tiny plastic timebombs?”

Professor Shaji Sebastian, Consultant Gastroenterologist, Hull University Teaching Hospital said: “The key is to understand, what are microplastics doing to the body? Do they go to the organs? For example, do they cross the barrier between the blood and the brain? If it is launched in the intestine, which is my area of interest, is it going to stimulate some problems or inflammation which may lead on to disease down the line? These are critical questions, which we need to answer.

“The results of this investigation are surprising and make research into the impacts of microplastics on the human body all the more urgent.”

The University of Portsmouth is committed to tackling global plastics problems through Revolution Plastics

Professor Steve Fletcher, Director of Revolution Plastics, said: “The more we study the world in which we live, the more microplastics we are finding. For most of us, plastic pollution is what we see in our environment. However, this research highlights the growing need to be aware of the hidden plastics too. Now we have found the scale of the problem, we need to understand how it might be impacting on human health.”

Alberto Costa MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Microplastics said: “I very much welcome this research by the University of Portsmouth and Good Morning Britain on this important topic. It has become increasingly apparent that plastic is present in our bodies having recently been discovered in human blood and in our lungs. 

“Plastic can enter our bodies through the air we breathe and through our food as highlighted in this investigation. We don’t yet know the effect this has on our health, but I would very much welcome more research and investigation into this so we can understand if there are any impacts.”

Methodology

2g of each food type (chicken, potatoes, carrots, broccoli and yorkshire pudding) were taken from the plastic wrapped and the unwrapped dinners. Samples were digested and analysed by microRaman to determine the number of microplastics in each sample (2 - 600 µm size range). The number of microplastics was then multiplied up to estimate the number on the whole plate.

For further information or to arrange an interview please contact Emma Gaisford, Media Officer, University of Portsmouth emma.gaisford@port.ac.uk 

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