PeopleMaking a Difference

Do plastic chopping boards shed microplastics into food?

Save money, save the planet: Microplastics are tiny plastic pieces, less than 5mm in diameter, that have been found in the air, water, soil and sand

Plastic chopping boards are a potentially significant source of microplastics in human food, a study has found. Photograph: PA

They’re coming for your chopping board next. Yep, you can’t even make a sandwich these days without being in the wrong. Plastic chopping boards are the latest thing to come under the knife, so to speak – scientists say they shed plastic, and that’s probably not a good thing.

Plastic chopping boards are a potentially significant source of microplastics in human food, according to a peer-reviewed study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

In Cutting Boards: An Overlooked Source of Microplastics in Human Food?, researchers investigated if the type of plastic chopping board you use and what you chop impacts the release of microplastics.

Two types of chopping board were tested. The size and number of microplastics released from polypropylene chopping boards was greater than polyethylene chopping boards.

READ MORE

What type do you have? God knows. You haven’t kept the packaging and any writing on it is long hacked off from your chopping or worn off in the dishwasher. This probably proves the point that bits of it have been falling off into your food since you got it.

Chop, chop

As part of the study, researchers chopped carrots on a polyethylene chopping board – so a bit of force was involved there. They found that this was associated with a greater release of microplastics than chopping things that weren’t carrots.

The study estimated an annual exposure of 7.4g - 50.7g of microplastics per person from a polyethylene chopping board and 49.5 g of microplastics from a polypropylene chopping board.

“Plastic chopping boards are a substantial source of microplastics in human food, which requires careful attention,” the research concluded.

Plastic cutting boards were found to be the source of microplastic contamination in fish and chicken sold in markets and shops in the Middle East, according to a separate study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Is it possible to stop microplastics entering our bodies? Opens in new window ]

Microplastics are tiny plastic pieces, less than 5mm in diameter, that have been found in the air, water, soil and sand. We’re breathing them, ingesting them, wearing them, swimming in them. They are in our bloodstream and our lungs. They’ve been found in Antarctic ice and in fish from the very deepest parts of the ocean. If it feels like you can’t do anything any more without someone saying “microplastics!”, you’re right.

Does it matter?

Although microplastics have been linked to illness, there is currently limited evidence to suggest they are causing significant adverse health impacts – that’s according to a World Health Organisation analysis of current research. That doesn’t mean they aren’t bad for us, it means the quality of the research so far isn’t great.

“There are major knowledge gaps in scientific understanding of the impact of microplastics,” says the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). “There is an overwhelming consensus among all stakeholders that plastics do not belong in the environment, and measures should be taken to mitigate exposure,” says the UNDP.

In short, life is plastic and that may not be fantastic.

What to use instead

So, back to plastic chopping boards. Switching to a wooden one can help limit the microplastics in your food preparation at least. There’s probably no money saving here as plastic chopping boards tend to be cheaper than good wooden ones.

Whatever chopping board you use, it should be made of smooth, washable, corrosion resistant and non-toxic material, according to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI).

Deeply scored chopping boards are more difficult to clean and can harbour harmful microorganisms which can contaminate food. They should be re-planed or disposed of and replaced by new boards, it says.

Save money, save the planet: How to dry your clothes fasterOpens in new window ]

Wooden chopping boards should be made of hardwood and preferably be of the end-grain type, says FSAI.ie.

You’re probably used to bunging your plastic chopping board in the dishwasher – a wooden chopping requires different care. Wipe it down with a clean damp cloth to remove food, scrub it with hot water and detergent, rinse and dry it, says the FSAI. To sanitise it, use coarse salt or neat vinegar. Make sure it’s thoroughly dry before storing as damp boards will harbour bacterial growth.