If You Use Sea Salt, You Could Be Eating Plastic

updated May 30, 2019
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(Image credit: Faith Durand)

Sea salt is one of the purest ingredients in your kitchen. At least it should be. Made by simply evaporating ocean water, it involves very little processing. In some cases, depending on the water source, trace amounts of natural minerals are left behind, which harmlessly add a touch of flavor or color. But plastic? That’s not an extra ingredient we want seasoning our caprese salads and tenderizing our sirloins.

According to a recent report in Nature, many sea salts at the grocery store contain teeny tiny bits of plastic. The report refers to them as microplastics, which are made of polyethylene terephthalate, most commonly used to make water bottles, cellophane, and those scrubby microbeads in cosmetics. But it’s not just one brand you need to look out for. Researchers detected microplastics in 15 different types of salt at the grocery store.

Perhaps the most disconcerting reveal from this study was that “natural” sea salt was the worst offender, collecting up to 250 pieces of plastic per pound — all due to the massive amounts of plastic pollution in our oceans.

This is hardly the first time unwanted materials have flown under the radar in the packaged food aisle. Last year, consumers boycotted many brands of pre-grated Parmesan cheese after wood pulp was discovered inside the shakers as filler.

But should we really worry about this, or merely brush it off as another food freak out? Before you toss your salt shaker in the trash, keep in mind that the study was conducted at East China Normal University and pulled salt from store shelves nearby. However, as Scientific American points out, “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.”

And while most of the particles are so miniscule and you’d never notice them, there have been some notable exceptions. Plus, consuming the recommended salt dose every day would mean you ingest 1,000 microplastic pieces in one year; a far cry from the reported 11,000 particles consumed by Europeans via shellfish.

Either way, it might best to cut back on everyone’s favorite seasoning.