Risk in Brief - Microplastics in Seafood


  1. Recently, there are environmental concerns that microplastic particles present in toilette products will escape waste water treatment, polluting the environment and endangering marine organisms. There are also suggestions that these small particles would be ingested by marine organisms and entered into the food chain.
  2. Microplastics are small plastic particles. Although there is no internationally agreed definition, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has defined microplastics as mixture of plastics of various shapes with size range from 0.1 to 5 000 micrometre (µm), which corresponds to sizes of some bacteria to a piece of soya bean. They can be found in marine environments and may originate from numerous sources. They could be small (e.g. from toilette products made for skin exfoliation) but can also be derived from fragmentation of larger plastic wastes.
  3. There had been reports that small plastic particles have the ability of adsorbing environmental contaminants onto its surface while suspended in the ocean for extended period.

Safety and Public Health Significance

  1. Most of the microplastics found in seafood remained in their digestive tract. Since most fish are gutted and cleaned before consumption, the chance of exposure to these microplastics through consumption of fish is considered lower than fish of smaller size (e.g. noodle fish) and shellfish (e.g. mussels, oysters) that are commonly consumed whole.
  2. Contaminants like persistent organic pollutants (POPs) can adhere to the surface of these microplastics during their suspension in the ocean. Plastic particles may also contain various sorts of additives (e.g. bisphenol A) during their manufacturing.
  3. Based on a conservative estimation through consumption of bivalves (mussels) that are consumed whole, EFSA considered the presence of microplastics in this group of seafood would have a small effect on the overall exposure to additives or contaminants like BPA, PCB or PAH.

Advice to the Public and Trade

  1. To reduce exposure to microplastics, the Centre for Food Safety advises the public to clean fish and seafood thoroughly, especially to remove its digestive tract, where possible, before cooking.

Risk Assessment Section
August 2016