United Kingdom

Popular food staple of rice found to contain 'potentially dangerous' microplastics

Rice, a staple in millions of Australian homes, may contain 'potentially dangerous' microplastics, according to scientists. 

Researchers at the University of Queensland found Australians may consume up to 4mg of plastic in an average 100g serve of uncooked rice. 

Boiling the rice to cook it is unlikely to get rid of the microplastics as it has no  filtration system.

The world-first study also identified 13mg of plastics per 100g of instant or pre-cooked store-bought rice, a popular staple for busy families.

The Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences researchers found uncooked rice may have 3-4mg of plastic in 100g serve (pictured: stock image of microplastics) 

Lead author Dr Jake O'Brien said he didn't think people should 'be concerned, but I think people should be aware.' 

'Currently there are many unknowns about how harmful consuming microplastics is to human health, but we do know exposure can cause an element of risk,' Dr O'Brien said.    

The simple trick can save Australians from consuming around 1g of microplastics a year.   

The researchers also tested seven different plastics but found polyethylene - used for packaging, toys and fishing nets - was most frequently detected at 95 per cent.

Lead author Dr Jake O'Brien (pictured) said he didn't think people should be concerned on the findings but rather made 'aware' of the potentially dangerous plastics 

 Dr O'Brien said the microplastics in rice were relatively low but admitted it's still early days in research to create methods to measure plastic contamination in foods.

'We hope this study encourages further research on where plastic contamination of rice is occurring, so we can reduce contamination and increase community awareness of where plastic exposure happens on a daily basis,' he said.

'In future studies, we aim to incorporate a measure of the plastic size, along with the concentration, because potential health impacts from microplastics are likely size dependent.'     

Another senior research fellow Dr Thava Palanisami, found people were ingesting 2,000 tiny pieces of plastic every week - the size of a credit card. 

The 2019 research project led the The University of Newcastle researcher to also raise the alarm on microplastics in rice. 

Dr Palanisami said when the plastics are smaller in size they are generally more dangerous as they can move into the blood stream and organs.   

Microplastics enter the waterways through a variety of means and finish suspended in the liquid. They can be transported long distances both in water and via the air, taking them to the furthest corners of the world

What are microplastics?  


Microplastics are defined as tiny pieces of plastic that are less than 5mm in length - about the size of a sesame seed. 

There's an even smaller type of microplastic – nanoplastic – which is the result of microplastics breaking down even further and are less than 100 nanometers (nm).   

The most common causes for microplastics entering the environment are surface run-off after heavy rain or a flood, treated and untreated wastewater effluent, industrial effluent, sewer overflows and atmospheric deposition.

 Primary and secondary microplastics: 

Primary microplastics are intentionally manufactured in the size of a microplastic size for either industrial abrasives used in sandblasting and microbeads used in cosmetics and skin care products.

Secondary microplastics are formed by the weathering of larger plastic items after being released into the environment. 

Credit: Choice.com.au 

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