Welcome to a new series called Is My Food Safe? I’ll feature topics regarding pollutants, additives, GMO’s, artificial sugars, and much more so you can rest easy when choosing foods to nourish your body.
First of all, I think it’s really important to put all of these topics into perspective.
The truth is that our food supply is the safest it has ever been.
Between the USDA and the DHHS (Department of Health and Human Services), which includes the FDA and the CDC, there are quality controls regarding processed foods as well as processes in place to deal with any food borne illness outbreaks.
Therefore, when it comes to this series of topics, I want to start by saying that I trust the process for food sold in the US, and that it is safe. Is there room for improvement? Of course, just like anything else! But I do not think that anyone is hiding anything, and actually I believe we have the safest food supply in the world, and we should be confident in that.
As we dive into these topics, I encourage you to think to yourself the following questions:
- How often do I eat this food?
- What portion size do I typically eat?
For most of us, this information will be interesting, but likely will not change our consumption behavior, because we tend to eat such a varied diet (a good thing!), and the amount we consume wouldn’t make a difference in our health outcomes even if there are some concerns about it.
One example I have given around this concept is with processed meats. Read more about that here!
Let’s jump into the topic of the day!
Here’s the “Bottom Line Up Front” when it comes to microplastics in fish:
- Fish can eat microplastics and accumulate in their digestive tracts but current evidence doesn’t suggest any effects on humans who consume them.
- As a precaution to avoid exposure, you can limit eating small fish whole like sardines, shrimp, shellfish.
- There are plenty variety of seafoods to enjoy. Any medium to large sea animal where only parts that don’t include the digestive tract are eaten, is low risk. Some examples include trout, tuna, salmon, cod, bass, and much more.
- If you consume a variety of seafood as part of a nutritious diet, this is a non-issue.
What Are Microplastics?
Microplastics are small plastic debris no larger than 5mm. Large pieces of plastic waste are broken down by nature into microplastics. In the past, they also came from beauty and hygiene products that contain microbeads.
Microbeads are small, cheap plastic beads put in products for exfoliation or prolonging shelf-life. They were banned in 2015 after Obama signed the Microbeads-Free Waters Act.
How Do They Get Into Food?
Because of their size, microplastics fall through filters in waste-management plants and end up in the ocean along with larger plastic from littering or waste dumping. Sea animals consume microplastics by accident and thus introduced to the food chain. From there, fish are caught and put on our plates.
How Do They Affect My Health?
As plastics break down, any chemical additives are leached into the ocean and could accumulate inside an aquatic animal’s body. Chemical exposure from microplastics is generally small compared to other sources of exposure from everyday activities.
Microplastics normally accumulate in the digestive tracts of aquatic animals. Majority of microplastics ingested by humans are excreted in waste depending on shape and size.
Are They Safe?
Direct effects of microplastics to human health are not fully understood and currently there is not evidence showing it is a concern to the health of the consumer. However, more research is being conducted to understand this environmental problem and how it affects our health.
- Seafood contains many beneficial vitamins and minerals essential to health including omega 3’s, DHA, vitamin D, vitamin B2, phosphorus, iron, zinc, and more.
- There are no evidence based recommendations that suggest avoiding seafood because of the presence of microplastics in the environment.
- Because plastic may collect in the stomach of fish when they accidentally eat it, humans may see higher exposure when eating small aquatic animals whole, like shellfish, sardines, or shrimp.
- If you are concerned about exposure, you might choose to limit consumption of small seafood. With medium to large fish like tuna, salmon, or trout, it’s not a concern as the stomach and digestive tracts are removed before we eat them.
What Does Julie Do?
Honestly, I would like to consume seafood 2-3 times a week, but I rarely have it that often. I usually get a variety of sources when I do have seafood (smoked oysters, sardines, tuna, and salmon are my favorites). Since I don’t have any one seafood type very frequently, I don’t worry about my exposure and I simply enjoy the delicious flavor!
For More Reading See The Articles Below
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration article 2021: What are Microplastics?
- Current Environmental Health Reports Journal 2018: Microplastics in Seafood and Implications for Human Health
- Green and Sustainable Chemistry Journal 2021: Microplastics in fisheries and aquaculture: implications to food sustainability and safety
- Environmental Health Perspectives Journal 2015: New Link in the Food Chain? Marina Plastic Pollution and Seafood Safety
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– Julie and Intern Hailee