Microplastics discovered lurking in olive oil and other vegetable oils

A recently published study has found the widespread presence of microplastics contaminating popular vegetable oils, including extra virgin olive oil, olive oil, sunflower oil, and mixed seed oils from Italy and Spain.    

The study, conducted by a team of researchers from the University of Bologna and FISABIO-Public Health, analyzed samples of various edible oils packaged in both plastic and glass bottles. The results were concerning: microplastics were detected in every single sample, regardless of the type of packaging used.    

Microplastics, defined as plastic particles smaller than 5 millimeters, have become an increasingly prevalent environmental contaminant. These tiny plastic fragments can be ingested and potentially accumulate in the body, with unknown long-term effects.    

The researchers utilized a multi-step process to identify and characterize the microplastics found in the oils. First, the oil samples were diluted and homogenized to evenly distribute the plastic particles. Then, vacuum filtration was used to isolate the microplastics, which were trapped on the filters while the oil passed through. Finally, automated μ-FTIR spectroscopy was employed to determine the specific types of plastic present.    

The analysis revealed that the majority of the microplastics were fragments, smaller than 100 microns, composed of polyethylene (50.3%) and polypropylene (28.7%) - two plastics commonly used in packaging materials. A mean microplastics abundance of 1140 ± 350 MPs/L was found.

Importantly, the study found no significant differences in microplastic abundance between the various oil types or between plastic and glass packaging, suggesting the contamination likely occurs during the production or bottling process rather than being specific to the packaging.  

The researchers emphasize the urgent need for further research to identify the specific sources of microplastic contamination in the food supply, as well as the development of strategies to limit this problem. 
Calls for more sustainable production practices, stricter regulations, and consumer-driven demand for reduced plastic packaging are all critical steps in the fight against microplastic pollution.