Pollution is alive and well, folks. And according to a paper from Shanghai’s East China Normal University, table salt is the latest thing touched by its grubby little fingers.
Researchers at the university hypothesized that Chinese sea salts contained high levels of microplastics as a result of being supplied by seawater. And indeed—they were correct: they found that the microplastic content in the sea salts tested was 550–681 particles/kg, the highest among the fifteen brands of table salts they used for their research. (By comparison, lake salts contained 43–364 particles/kg, while rock/well salts contained 7–204 particles/kg.)
What are microplastics, and why should we care that we’re sprinkling them all over our food? To quote Scientific American, they’re “micro-sized particles of the common water bottle plastic polyethylene terephthalate, as well as polyethylene, cellophane, and a wide variety of other plastics.” Real talk: they come from plastic pollution floating around in the ocean. And water bottles aren’t the only villains—plastic microbeads found in exfoliates are also no bueno. The problem with ingesting these microplastics is that they contain heavy metals and other not-very-good-for-you chemicals that generally don’t belong in your body.
But wait! It’s a Chinese study. Our salt must be okay, right? Not so fast. Sherri Mason, who studies plastic pollution at SUNY Fredonia told Scientific American, “Plastics have become such a ubiquitous contaminant, I doubt it matters whether you look for plastic in sea salt on Chinese or American supermarket shelves. I’d like to see some ‘me-too’ studies.”
Two words: me too.
Oh, and just in case you thought other spices were safe, here’s a fun fact: mammalian poop has been found to lurk in pepper! Have a good dinner!