Some key points from this study (Dessì et al, 2021):
• The researchers found micro- and nano-sized plastic contaminants in EVERY rice product, regardless of the type of rice (jasmine, basmati, brown, or other rice type) or if the rice was organic or not, or where the rice was grown
• The amount of plastic in the rice wasn't related to the product being packaged in plastic or whether it was in paper packaging - hence the contamination is not coming from its own packaging but from other sources
• Instant or pre-cooked rice designed to be quickly heated in the microwave oven contained 3-6 times as much plastic contaminants as all other dried rice products
• Washing or rinsing rice before cooking DOES reduce the amount of plastic contaminants significantly, by approximately 20-40%, but not completely
• Plastics are often contaminated with additive chemicals such as BPA and phthalates (oestrogen mimicking chemical, known to cause male and female hormone imbalances), flame retardants, and others which have negative health effects. Heating the plastic increases the release of these chemicals into the food, which you don't want.
As a result of this study, the researchers recommend that store-bought rice be washed or rinsed before being cooked, and avoid the pre-cooked microwavable rice which had MUCH higher concentrations of plastic contaminants.
Rice is also contamined with other things, including agricultural chemicals and heavy metals. Rice has a tendency to absorb more arsenic than other crops. This is concentrated more in the outer layers of the rice - such as in "brown rice", hence one of several reasons why brown rice should be avoided.
The researchers also noted that plastic contaminants have also been found in other foods - honey, beer, meat (packaged on plastic trays), milk, sugar, table salt, bottled water, energy drinks, soft drinks, teas, and other sources.
We have been made aware of how damaging plastics are to the environment and animals, but we should also now be aware that plastics are in many of our foods - mostly in processed and packaged foods. There will be much less contamination of fresh foods which we should be eating more of!
With rice being a staple food for over 50% of the world's population, the findings in this study are a concern. This article is also a reminder to not use plastic water bottles or food containers, especially if the temperature rises (such as when heated or exposed to hot food or the sun)- as more chemicals leach from the plastic into your food. This causes many adverse health effects.
Dessì, C., Okoffo , E.D., O’Brien, J.W., Gallen, M., Samanipour, S., Kaserzon, S., Rauert, C., Wang, X., & Thomas, K.V. (2021). Plastics contamination of store-bought rice. Journal of Hazardous Materials, 416, 125778. DOI: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2021.125778