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Fact Check: Plastic Cutting Boards Shed Microplastics in Food. Here's What a Study Found

X user @casbrad
X user @casbrad

Claim:

Plastic cutting boards have been shown to shed microplastics in food.

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Microplastics — pieces of plastic that are generally smaller than 5 mm, or about the length of a pencil eraser, and are barely visible to the naked eye — have been discovered in places as disparate as human heart tissue and the clouds above Mount Fuji. They also made their way into food from a number of sources, including, according to some social media users, plastic cutting boards that are in use in many home kitchens. 

One post (archive) shared to X (formerly Twitter) on Feb. 17, 2024, had received more than 26.5 million views as of this publication: 

The underlying claim that plastic cutting boards have been shown to shed microplastics into food is true, based on findings published from a small-scale study in the American Chemical Society's scientific journal, Environmental Science & Technology, on May 23, 2023. 

Typically, cutting boards are made of rubber, bamboo, wood or plastic. When food is minced, chopped or sliced with knives while on these boards, small pieces of material have been shown to slough off. Small parts of plastic, in particular, are released into some food products prepared on cutting boards. 

The ACS study was designed to determine how board material and chopping styles, both with and without vegetables present, influenced how much microplastic was released. First, five people chopped on three different polyethylene cutting boards without vegetables to measure the amount of microplastics released. Next, these same people chopped on polyethylene, polypropylene and wooden boards to compare microplastic release across all three. Finally, carrots were chopped on the polyethylene board to see how the release compared when using a vegetable instead of when not. 

The researchers found that plastic chopping boards were a "substantial source of microplastics in human food" influenced both by a person's chopping style and the cutting board's material. 

While propylene was shown to shed more than polyethylene did, the study authors calculated between 14 million and 17 million polyethylene microplastics and 79 million polypropylene microplastics from their respective boards each year. However, those figures may fluctuate based on how a person chops, the force needed to cut through certain foods, and the wear and tear of a particular board, among other factors. 

"Our understanding is that human instincts will drive the required force based on the hardness of the food being chopped. For instance, a restaurant that chops steaks (e.g., chicken and beef) on plastic chopping boards before serving may see different microplastic counts in the final steaks," wrote the study authors. 

It adds to a growing body of research aimed at understanding how microplastics enter the food chain. One study, for example, found that a single human takes in between 39,000 and 52,000 microplastics each year through food. Another found that people consume an estimated 1,530 microplastics through food and another 587 by drinking water. 

And it's not just cutting boards that microplastics originate from. In 2021, researchers at Dalian University of Technology in China determined that plastic packaging can contaminate fruits and vegetables. Microwaving and heating plastic products have also been shown to release microplastics into food.

The ACS study found the plastics sloughed off weren't toxic to mice cells tested in a lab over 72 hours, but the long-term effects of ingesting microplastics aren't well documented.  A World Health Organization analysis of microplastic research available as of this publication found that "there is currently limited evidence to suggest microplastics are causing significant adverse health impacts."

"There are major knowledge gaps in scientific understanding of the impact of microplastics and the weight of the current evidence is low to conclude the casualty of adverse effects. Further and more holistic research is needed to obtain a more accurate assessment of exposure to microplastics and their potential impacts on human health," wrote WHO in a June 2023 news release.

From a "super worm" capable of eating plastic to claims related to the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch," Snopes has looked into digital rumors related to the world's most pervasive pollutant, available in our archive.

Sources:

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Deng, Jingyu, et al. "Microplastics Released from Food Containers Can Suppress Lysosomal Activity in Mouse Macrophages." Journal of Hazardous Materials, vol. 435, Aug. 2022, p. 128980. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhazmat.2022.128980.

Habib, Rana Zeeshan, Ruwaya Al Kindi, et al. "Microplastic Contamination of Chicken Meat and Fish through Plastic Cutting Boards." International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 19, no. 20, Oct. 2022, p. 13442. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph192013442.

Habib, Rana Zeeshan, Vijo Poulose, et al. "Plastic Cutting Boards as a Source of Microplastics in Meat." Food Additives & Contaminants. Part A, Chemistry, Analysis, Control, Exposure & Risk Assessment, vol. 39, no. 3, Mar. 2022, pp. 609–19. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1080/19440049.2021.2017002.

"Https://Twitter.Com/Casbrad/Status/1758997527603327298." X (Formerly Twitter), https://twitter.com/casbrad/status/1758997527603327298. Accessed 21 Mar. 2024.

Hussain, Kazi Albab, et al. "Assessing the Release of Microplastics and Nanoplastics from Plastic Containers and Reusable Food Pouches: Implications for Human Health." Environmental Science & Technology, vol. 57, no. 26, July 2023, pp. 9782–92. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.3c01942.

Luo, Yunlong, et al. "Assessment of Microplastics and Nanoplastics Released from a Chopping Board Using Raman Imaging in Combination with Three Algorithms." Journal of Hazardous Materials, vol. 431, June 2022, p. 128636. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhazmat.2022.128636.

"Microplastics Found in Human Heart Tissues, Both before and after Surgical Procedures." American Chemical Society, https://www.acs.org/pressroom/presspacs/2023/august/microplastics-found-in-human-heart-tissues-before-and-after-surgical-procedures.html. Accessed 21 Mar. 2024.

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US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. What Are Microplastics? https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/microplastics.html. Accessed 21 Mar. 2024.

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Yadav, Himani, Md Rakib Hasan Khan, et al. "Cutting Boards: An Overlooked Source of Microplastics in Human Food?" Environmental Science & Technology, vol. 57, no. 22, June 2023, pp. 8225–35. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.3c00924.

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