The omnipresence of plastics and their decay products poses ever greater challenges to the economy, society and the entire ecosystem, to which the EU has responded by initiating the European strategy for plastics in the circular economy. Microplastics (MP), which are made up of very small plastic fragments with dimensions in the μm range, are a source of plastic entering the environment. According to the EU Commission, around 75,000 to 300,000 t of microplastics enter the environment in Europe every year. Microplastics are divided into primary and secondary MPs. Primary microplastics include plastic particles in the μm range, which are used as basic material for the production of various products in the cosmetics, hygiene, medical and textile industries. Secondary microplastics, on the other hand, arise from physical, biological and chemical degradation and decay of macroplastic parts and make up the majority of the occurring MP.
The aim is to develop a valid analytical method for the undoubted qualitative and quantitative detection of MP in food. Based on the measurement results of reference materials and real samples, possible sources of contamination (environment, raw materials, filling plants, packaging) will be identified and preventive measures to avoid MP in food and beverages will be proposed. In particular, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that are confronted with MP in the food and packaging industry gain a competitive edge through this project.
In this project, three leading research institutions UBT and IPF in Germany and OFI in Austria aim to jointly work out an analytic methodology for the detection and identification of MPs for the food and packaging industry. Innovative spectroscopic imaging tools and advanced data processing methods will be developed which allow for the generation of validated and reliable data (qualitative and quantitative) on MP contamination of food and beverages. In detailed case studies, the sources of entry in important food groups (i) water and filtered beverages, (ii) soluble food, (iii) food surfaces will be determined by using standardized MP sampling protocols, well defined workflows for the micro-spectroscopic analysis and data treatment. In addition, general sampling instructions to test the impact of packaging and filling systems on the MP-content in beverages and on/in food will be derived and tested in 3 types of packaging and filling plants.