Instant rice packs a plastic punch

10th May 2021 | Eativity editors

People are consuming three to four milligrams of plastic for every 100 grams of rice they eat, with this number jumping to a scary 13 milligrams of plastic per serve for instant rice, according to new University of Queensland research.

Lead study author Dr Jake O’Brien from UQ’s Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences says this study is the first in the world to quantify levels of microplastics in rice.

“Rice is a staple food around the world, so it is important we understand the quantity of microplastics we could be consuming,” he says. “Our study found we may be consuming three to four milligrams of plastic through a single serve, or 100 grams of rice.”

A significant result of the study was the levels of plastics found in pre-cooked or instant rice, which was four times higher than in uncooked rice, averaging 13 milligrams per serve.

“Importantly, we also found that washing rice before cooking can reduce plastics contamination by 20 to 40 percent,” O’Brien says.

The researchers tested for seven different plastic types ranging from the most common plastic – polyethylene – to plastics used in clothing and food production, laminates, technical engineering, polystyrene, acrylics and tube piping.

Rice is one of the most widely consumed grains in the world.

Key study findings:

• Washing rice reduces plastics contamination by 20-40%
• Plastics in instant rice were 4x higher than uncooked rice, averaging 13mg per serve
• Australians consume an average of 3-4mg of plastic per serve
• Australians may consume around 1g plastic per person via rice annually

To reduce your exposure, give your rice a good rinse before cooking.

Currently, there are many unknowns about how harmful consuming microplastics is to human health, but it is known that exposure can cause an element of risk.

“We’re in the early stages of developing methods to measure plastic contamination of foods, and at the moment we’re limited to only a few plastic types,” Dr O’Brien says. “It’s really challenging to determine our exposure and exposure sources of these chemicals.

“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.”