High-tech methods for detecting microplastics in food and suitable prevention measures are the focus of the joint German-Austrian Cornet project "MicroplasticATfood", which kicked off on 1 July 2021. With its expertise in microplastic research, the University of Bayreuth is involved in interdisciplinary case studies dealing with packaging, filling lines, beverages, surfaces of solid food, and soluble foods. On the German side, the project will be funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy until 2023 to the tune of € 542,000, of which about € 275,000 have been allocated to the University of Bayreuth.
Coordination of the joint project "MicroplasticATfood" is shared by the Industry Association for Food Technology and Packaging e.V. in Germany and ecoplus, the business agency of the province of Lower Austria. It is part of the Cornet (Collective Research Networking) initiative, which promotes international research projects for the benefit of small and medium-sized enterprises. In the project, the University of Bayreuth will be cooperating with two other research partners, the Leibniz Institute for Polymer Research Dresden and the Austrian Research Institute for Chemistry and Technology in Vienna. In addition, 55 companies from the packaging, food, and beverage industries are participating in the project. Together, the project partners are seeking to develop proposals and measures to avoid microplastics in food in order to protect consumers.
In close coordination with its partners in Dresden and Vienna, the University of Bayreuth, under the leadership by Animal Ecology I, is developing analytical detection methods for microplastics in food. "We will optimise and further develop our analytical methods for different food groups. In this way, we will be able to provide our industrial partners with reliable data on the possible degree of microplastic contamination of their products and on its sources, for example in their respective production and packaging processes. With these results, we wish to develop solution and optimisation strategies together with these companies, which will ultimately benefit consumers," says Dr. Martin Löder, who leads the research work in the "MicroplasticATfood" project together with Prof. Dr. Christian Laforsch at the University of Bayreuth. Here the project is embedded in the interdisciplinary focus area of "Food & Health Sciences".
"Meanwhile, microplastics have become prevalent in all areas of daily life. The new joint project now focuses on the central aspects of food production and packaging. Close cooperation between research and industry is of crucial importance here. All participants are united in their common interest in avoiding possible risks that can result from the contamination of food with microplastics. The more precisely we know how and to what extent microplastics can get into our food, the more effective are the prevention measures we can develop together with the participating companies," says Prof. Dr. Christian Laforsch, Chair of Animal Ecology I and Spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Centre “Microplastics” at the University of Bayreuth.
In the first stage of their work, the project partners will optimise the detection methods for microplastics for the different product groups. Afterwards, filling systems for beverages and food packaging made of plastics will first be examined to see to what extent they can contribute to the entry of microplastics into food. In the further course of the project, the focus will be on beverages, foods that are soluble in water such as salt and sugar, and the surfaces of solid foods, for example meat, sausage, fish, cheese, and tofu. Here, the project partners will seek to determine whether microplastic particles enter these everyday foods during processing, through bulk and filling equipment, or via their packaging itself.
The Cornet initiative:
Cornet (Collective Research Networking) networks national and regional programmes of collaborative research from different countries. Currently, 15 funding organisations and ministries from Europe, East Asia, North and South America are involved in Cornet. In Germany, this initiative is based on the Industrial Cooperative Research (IGF) funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. It aims to strengthen the interests of small and medium-sized enterprises in particular through research at the international level.