Cutting boards are an essential tool found in most homes and restaurant kitchens. However, according to a small-scale study conducted by researchers from Environmental Science & Technology, they are also an overlooked source of micrometer-sized particles. The study claims that chopping up carrots on wood and plastic boards could produce tens of millions of microparticles every year.
The research team collected and measured the micro-sized particles released from cutting boards, which were repeatedly struck by a knife. They compared five people’s chopping patterns and one person’s chopping on different materials with and without carrots. From the results, the team calculated that food preparation could produce 14 to 71 million polyethylene microplastics and 79 million polypropylene microplastics from their respective boards each year.
The Potential Health Impacts
Most cutting boards are made of rubber, bamboo, wood or plastic, and over time, these kitchen implements develop grooves and slash marks from mincing, slicing and chopping food. Recently, researchers have shown that some plastic board materials, including polypropylene and polyethylene, can shed nano- and micro-sized flecks when cut with knives. However, those studies didn’t assess how many of these microplastics could be produced during realistic food preparation scenarios.
This would be an essential piece of information because the particles might have negative health impacts if ingested. So, Syeed Md Iskander and colleagues wanted to investigate the microparticles that would be released when chopping vegetables on plastic and wood boards, as well as any potential toxicity from these tiny materials.
Although many microparticles formed, the researchers found that polyethylene microplastics and wood microparticles released when chopping carrots didn’t appear to significantly change mouse cells’ viability in lab tests. While plastic cutting boards are easy to clean, the researchers suggest that other options could be used to reduce potential microplastic contamination in foods.
The Factors That Affect Microparticle Production
The estimates of microparticle production could vary, depending on an individual’s chopping style, the board material, the force needed to cut through foods, whether ingredients are roughly or finely chopped, and how often a cutting board is used. The researchers did not determine yearly estimates for wooden boards, although they reported that these items sloughed off 4 to 22 times more microparticles than plastic ones in different tests.
Cutting boards are found to be an overlooked source of micrometer-sized particles. While the study found that the microparticles released during chopping did not have a significant effect on mouse cell survival, it suggests that other options could be used to reduce potential microplastic contamination in foods. The research highlights the importance of considering the factors that affect microparticle production, especially when it comes to food preparation.