Disturbing amount of plastic found in popular pantry staple

New Australian research has found an an alarming amount of plastic is mixed in with a food staple enjoyed around the world.

For every 100 grams of rice people eat, they are consuming three to four milligrams of plastic, research from the University of Queensland shows.

However, that number is higher for pre-cooked or instant rice.

“A significant result was the levels of plastics found in pre-cooked or instant rice, as it was four times higher than in uncooked rice, averaging 13 milligrams per serve,” Dr Jake O’Brien said in a media release.

Pictured is a generic supermarket aisle and a lab testing microplastics
Between three to four milligrams of plastic is found in 100 grams of rice, research from the University of Queensland shows. Source: Getty Images, file

Dr O’Brien from UQ’s Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences (QAEHS) was the lead author on the world-first study.

He says because rice is a staple across the world, it is important people understand how much micro plastics those who eat it could be consuming.

Speaking to Yahoo News Australia, Dr O'Brien said the data suggests the plastic is entering the rice before it gets into the packet.

"There's a lot of processes that actually go on between growing rice through to the final production and so it's likely that this contamination is entering during this processing," he said.

Pictured is Dr Jake O’Brien at work.
Dr Jake O’Brien (pictured) from the University of Queensland says the rice is contamined before it ends up in the packet. Source: University of Queensland

How to reduce microplastics in rice

The study found Australians might be consuming one gram of plastics every year, just by eating rice.

However, the research also found washing rice before cooking reduced plastic contamination be 20 to 40 per cent.

Dr O'Brien told Yahoo News Australia there is limited data for the amount of plastics in our food in general.

"So at this stage. I don't think it's wise to completely cut rice out of your diet," he said.

For the study, researchers tested for seven different plastic types and polyethylene was the most frequently detected in the store-bought rice used in the study.

Washing rice is a way to reduce plastic contamination. Pictured is a bowl of rice. Source: Getty Images
Washing rice is a way to reduce plastic contamination. Source: Getty Images

“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 in the press release.

“It is important to recognise that we are in the early stages of developing methods to measure plastic contamination of foods, and at the moment we are limited to only a few plastic types.

“It is really challenging to determine our exposure and exposure sources of these chemicals."

The method used in the study was developed by the University of Queensland team and has been used in other studies such as plastics in seafood species and sewage sludge, or biosolids.

Dr O'Brien said the team hopes the study encourages further research.

“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.”

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