Are You Eating Plastic? 8 Common Foods That May Contain It

In today’s world, plastics are not just all around us, they’re in us. Yes, you read that right. Recent studies have unearthed some unsettling truths about the plastic content in everyday foods.

While it’s common knowledge that plastic pollution is a critical environmental issue, its invasion into our food chain is a relatively newer chapter in the saga. From the sea to your plate, and even in your seasoning, plastic has permeated some of the most unexpected consumables.

Here’s eight of the top foods where plastics most frequently lurk.

1. Sea Salt

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Image Credit: duskbabe/Deposit Photos.

The crystalline granules that add zest to your dishes might be doing more than just seasoning your food. Sea salt is harvested from evaporating seawater, a process that, unfortunately, also captures microplastics floating in the ocean.

Research has indicated that a significant proportion of sea salt brands contain these microscopic invaders. Imagine sprinkling tiny plastic particles along with salt on your morning eggs! (ref)

A concerning aspect is the source of these plastics. Everyday items like water bottles, bags, and packaging degrade into smaller pieces and find their way into the ocean. Over time, these particles are absorbed by sea salt during the harvesting process.

It’s not just about the unpleasant idea of eating plastic; these particles can carry toxins that might affect health when ingested over time.

2. Shellfish

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For seafood lovers, this might be a hard pill to swallow. Shellfish such as mussels, clams, and oysters are natural filter feeders. In their process of filtering water to feed on plankton, they also end up ingesting microplastics.

These plastics are then retained in their bodies, which are often consumed whole by humans, making shellfish a direct line for plastic to enter our system.

Studies have shown that people who frequently eat shellfish might ingest thousands of microplastic particles each year. The risk is higher depending on the pollution levels in the waters from which the shellfish are harvested.

While the full health implications are still being studied, the presence of these plastics is enough to raise alarms about the safety of consuming shellfish in polluted waters. (ref)

3. Honey

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Sweet, natural honey is another surprising entry on this list. Bees, traveling from flower to flower, come into contact with polluted air that contains microplastics. These particles can attach to their bodies and be transferred to the honey they produce.

While the concentration levels might be lower compared to other foods, the fact that plastics make their way into such a pure and natural product is certainly a cause for concern. (ref)

The implications are twofold: it’s not only a matter of consuming plastics through honey but also an indicator of environmental pollution affecting bee populations. As bees play a crucial role in pollinating many of the crops we rely on, the presence of plastics in honey highlights the extensive reach of plastic pollution.

4. Beer

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Yes, even that refreshing pint might not be free of plastics. Recent analyses have found that microplastics are present in tap water used in brewing beer. Since many breweries rely on municipal water sources that are often contaminated with microplastics, these tiny particles can easily end up in your beer glass. (ref)

The brewing process involves filtration and purification steps, but not all systems are designed specifically to remove microplastics. This means that small amounts of plastics could be making their way into beers around the world, potentially altering the taste and quality, not to mention the health risks they might pose.

5. Bottled Water

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It might come as a shock, but the bottled water many people drink daily as a safer alternative to tap water can be a significant source of microplastics.

Studies have found that the majority of popular bottled water brands contain microplastics. The irony is palpable—people choosing bottled water to avoid contaminants in tap water are still ingesting plastics. (ref)

The plastic particles enter the water through various means, including degradation of the bottle itself or during the bottling process. The health implications of consuming these plastics regularly are still under scrutiny, but the idea of drinking ‘clean’ water that contains plastics certainly contradicts consumer expectations and raises questions about the safety and purity of bottled beverages.

6. Tea Bags

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Many modern tea bags are not made from paper, as one might assume, but from a type of plastic. When these tea bags are steeped in boiling water, they can release billions of microplastic particles into the tea.

This is particularly concerning because hot water likely accelerates the leaching process, meaning tea drinkers could get a higher dose of plastics with their soothing cups. (ref)

The shift from traditional paper tea bags to plastic ones is often driven by the desire to offer shapes and designs that don’t fold or tear easily. However, the environmental and health costs are significant, prompting a rethink among consumers and manufacturers about the materials used in everyday products like tea bags.

7. Farm-raised Fish

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Image Credit: Gaak/Shutterstock.

Similar to shellfish, farm-raised fish are often exposed to water contaminated with microplastics. These plastics come from a variety of sources, including fragmented fishing gear and synthetic fibers from clothing, which accumulate in the aquatic environments where fish are farmed.

As these fish ingest microplastics, the particles can accumulate in their bodies, which are then transferred to humans upon consumption. (ref)

This exposure is not limited to the fish itself but extends to the entire aquatic ecosystem, affecting the quality of the fish and potentially impacting human health. The presence of plastics in farm-raised fish is yet another reminder of how widespread plastic pollution has become, reaching even controlled, supposedly cleaner environments.

8. Processed Foods

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Processed foods often involve a high degree of packaging—much of it plastic. This not only contributes to plastic waste but also raises concerns about chemicals leaching into food products.

Phthalates, for example, are substances often used to make plastics more flexible and are found in numerous food packaging materials. These chemicals have been shown to leach into the contained food and are associated with several adverse health effects. (ref)

The problem is compounded by the widespread nature of processed foods in modern diets, which means regular consumption could lead to significant exposure to these harmful chemicals. This highlights the need for stricter regulations on food packaging materials and a shift towards more sustainable, less harmful packaging options.

Awareness Is a Start

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This revelation about plastics infiltrating our foods might make the situation seem bleak, but awareness is the first step toward change.

As consumers, demanding better filtration and purification processes, supporting environmental initiatives to reduce plastic pollution, and being mindful of our plastic use can contribute to reducing the presence of plastics in our food chain.

Martha A. Lavallie
Martha A. Lavallie
Author & Editor | + posts

Martha is a journalist with close to a decade of experience in uncovering and reporting on the most compelling stories of our time. Passionate about staying ahead of the curve, she specializes in shedding light on trending topics and captivating global narratives. Her insightful articles have garnered acclaim, making her a trusted voice in today's dynamic media landscape.