Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Leon Kaye headshot

Sea Salt Increasingly Contaminated by Micro Plastic

By Leon Kaye

Salt has sure gotten complicated over the years. That cylindrical container that was the go-to seasoning option for your parents and grandparents has been often relegated to the lower hard-to-see shelves at most supermarkets. Now the rules concerning salt are far stricter: Kosher is for most steps in cooking; table salt is all right for boiling pasta if no one’s looking; then of course, there are other options such as pink Himalayan salt and countless other “artisanal” options. Save that delicate sea salt for finishing due to its delicate flavor, we’re told.

Well, there is one snag with sea salt, say more researchers: it turns out it may be contaminated by plastic, according to recent analysis on the Guardian.

In a study not yet released, but to which journalist Jessica Glenza was offered a preview, Sherri Mason, a professor of chemistry at State University of New York at Fredonia, worked with University of Minnesota researchers to gauge microplastic levels in various food and beverage products. Included with various brands of beer and drinking water tested were 12 brands of salts, 10 of which were sea salts.

Mason concluded that on average, Americans could be consuming up to 660 particles of plastic annually. But considering that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has found that as many of 90 percent of all Americans are consuming too much sodium, the total number of plastic particles they are ingesting could actually be even higher.

Other studies completed in recent years have confirmed similar results. For example, a paper published this spring in the journal Scientific Reports concluded that fears of plastic contamination in oceans reach far beyond seafood. Researchers analyzed 16 brands of sea salt from four continents and after they dissolved them in water, found that the containers on average contained 72 particles of plastic. Over 90 percent of those articles were either plastics such as polypropylene and polyethylene; the rest were assumed to have a molecular structure similar to plastics. Only one brand, sourced from France, lacked any plastic contamination.

The public health impacts resulting from the amount of plastic particles currently in the global food supply is unknown. The United Nations has declared plastic pollution  a threat to human health, but so far, the science is uncertain. No exhaustive studies have been completed that can assess the long-term risks that plastic pollution imposes on humans.

But as one recent study has pointed out, the fear is that if plastic pollution does not recede, there could be risks from chronic exposure as this waste continues to pile up worldwide on land and in our oceans. With just about everyone on the planet exposed no matter how remote their homes may be, the lack of a control group of people with zero microplastics exposure poses a huge challenge to scientists’ understanding of our affinity for plastic could harm our health in the future.

Image credit: Ainars Brūvelis/Wiki Commons

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye