Microplastics in the Food Chain: Food Safety and Environmental Aspects

Rev Environ Contam Toxicol. 2021:259:1-49. doi: 10.1007/398_2021_77.


Plastic has been an incredibly useful and indispensable material in all aspects of human life. Without it many advances in medicine, technology or industry would not have been possible. However, its easy accessibility and low cost have led to global misuse. Basically, the production of the plastics from different chemical agents is very easy but unfortunately difficult to reuse or recycle, and it is thrown away as litter, incinerated or disposed of in landfill. Plastic once in the environment begins to degrade to very small sizes. Thus, many animals mistake them for food, so plastic enters a marine, terrestrial or freshwater food web. These microplastics although chemically inert have been shown to act as tiny "bio-sponges" for harmful chemicals found in the environment changing the nature of a plastic particle from chemically harmless to potentially toxic. It was believed that microparticles would simply pass through the gastrointestinal tract of animals and humans with no biological effect. However, studies have shown that they are sometimes taken up and distributed throughout the circulatory and lymphatic system and may be stored in the fatty tissues of different organisms. The result of the uptake of them showed potential carcinogenic effects, liver dysfunction and endocrine disruption. This review focuses on micro- and nanoplastics and their way entering marine and freshwater food webs, with particular attention to microplastic trophic transfer, their toxic side effects and influence to the human consumer in health and safety in the future.

Keywords: Anthropogenic activity; Aquatic food chain; Environmental safety; Food safety; Freshwater fish; Marine fish.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Food Chain
  • Food Safety
  • Humans
  • Microplastics*
  • Plastics / toxicity
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical* / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical* / toxicity


  • Microplastics
  • Plastics
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical