Research project

Development and validation of innovative analytical methods for the reliable detection and determination of small micro/nanoplastics in food related samples

Related toSpoke 03

Principal investigators
Maria Careri,Claudia Zoani

Other partecipantsUniPR: Federica Bianchi, Antonella Cavazza, Monica Mattarozzi, Nicolò Riboni, Maurizio Piergiovanni; ENEA: Emilia Pucci
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Task involved

Task 3.1.3.

New/existing materials will be characterised in terms of migration studies of both intentionally and non-intentionally added substances, small-/micro/nano- plastics, metal nanoparticles, food packaging suitability and growth of mycotoxigenic moulds, even after being subjected to innovative/emerging processing technologies (e.g., cold gas plasma, HPP). Potential antimicrobial properties will also be assessed, particularly for developed functional packaging systems. The safety of new materials used as FCM, from recyclable sources, bioplastics or derived from by-products, will be assessed in collaboration with Spoke 2

Task 3.3.1.

The task includes evaluation of safety parameters in traditional and novel foods through the development of: a) chemical sensors and immunosensors for the selective detection of algal and plant toxins, and trace allergens; b) portable devices based on laser photoacoustic spectroscopy (LPAS) and other spectroscopy techniques; c) Ambient Desorption Ionisation methods with High-Resolution Mass Spectrometry (DESI-HRMS); e) use of rt-PCR and digital droplet-PCR to evaluate new and (re)-emerging foodborne pathogenic species; f) metabolomics and proteomics strategies coupled to pathway analysis to evaluate the effects of emerging and re-emerging contaminants; d) analytical techniques, i.e., spectroscopic and MS-based, to determine biogenic amines, pesticides, veterinary drug residues, mycotoxins and processing toxicants; and g) new Matrix-Reference Materials to be characterised for food safety parameters will be developed, including preparation of test-lots, their characterization and homogeneity and stability studies.

Project deliverables


Report on added substances, small nano-plastics, metal nanoparticles (M30)


Report on the development and testing of new analytical techniques for targeted analysis of contaminants (M36)


Report on feasibility studies to produce new food Matrix-RMs (M36)

State of the art

Plastic pollution is recognized as a major global issue. Polymer-based products dispersed in the environment are subjected to degradation into microplastics, small microplastics (SMPs, 100-1 μm) and nanoplastics (NPs, 1–100 nm). The dispersion of plastic particles in all ecological systems also affects the food chain, posing potential risks to human health. 
This project will focus on the development of analytical strategies for SMPs and NPs in food to face metrological issues, representing a great analytical challenge because method standardization for the measurements of SMPs/NPs in food and validation studies are yet scarce. In particular, effort is needed to improve detection and reliable characterization of NPs in complex matrices, since estimation of bioaccumulation of NPs is urgent to manage risk assessment. The proposal will take advantage from the participation of the PI to the PlasticTrace EURAMET project aimed to harmonise methods for the measurements of SMPs/NPs in food and environmental samples as required by the EU's CEAP. 

Operation plan

1) Provision of reference materials of both pristine and secondary small micro- (0.1 µm –100 µm) and nano (<0.1 µm) plastics from PlasticTrace EURAMET project.  
2) Selection of food sample matrices to be investigated and preparation of Matrix-Reference Materials (e.g., drinking water, milk powder).
3) Development of sample treatment and analytical methods of measurement of SMPs in food samples using relevant reference particles.
4) Development of an analytical platform based on sample enrichment and innovative approaches for the measurement of NPs in food samples using relevant reference particles.
5) Validation of methods for the characterisation of SMPs/NPs in complex matrices by dynamic light scattering, electron microscopy, atomic force microscopy (AFM), micro-Raman and AFM-Raman.
6) Validation of methods for the determination of the mass fraction and polymer type by pyrolysis-GC-MS. 

Expected results

1.  Availability of a sample preparation protocol for SMPs and NPs extraction and pre-concentration, demonstrating also a negligible effect on the particle characteristics and compositions.

2.  Availability of reliable and traceable methods for the characterization and quantification of SMPs/NPs.

3. Improvement of the reliability and accuracy of SMPs/NPs characterization through the dissemination of the developed methods to core stakeholders that include accredited commercial laboratories, national environmental institutes and monitoring agencies in different sectors

4. Assessment of contamination in selected food-related samples with the ultimate goal of performing migration studies.

5. Availability of test-lots of new Matrix-RMs.

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