Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry

, Volume 410, Issue 22, pp 5603–5615 | Cite as

Detection of nanoplastics in food by asymmetric flow field-flow fractionation coupled to multi-angle light scattering: possibilities, challenges and analytical limitations

  • Manuel Correia
  • Katrin LoeschnerEmail author
Research Paper
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Food Safety Analysis


We tested the suitability of asymmetric flow field-flow fractionation (AF4) coupled to multi-angle light scattering (MALS) for detection of nanoplastics in fish. A homogenized fish sample was spiked with 100 nm polystyrene nanoparticles (PSNPs) (1.3 mg/g fish). Two sample preparation strategies were tested: acid digestion and enzymatic digestion with proteinase K. Both procedures were found suitable for degradation of the organic matrix. However, acid digestion resulted in large PSNPs aggregates/agglomerates (> 1 μm). The presence of large particulates was not observed after enzymatic digestion, and consequently it was chosen as a sample preparation method. The results demonstrated that it was possible to use AF4 for separating the PSNPs from the digested fish and to determine their size by MALS. The PSNPs could be easily detected by following their light scattering (LS) signal with a limit of detection of 52 μg/g fish. The AF4-MALS method could also be exploited for another type of nanoplastics in solution, namely polyethylene (PE). However, it was not possible to detect the PE particles in fish, due to the presence of an elevated LS background. Our results demonstrate that an analytical method developed for a certain type of nanoplastics may not be directly applicable to other types of nanoplastics and may require further adjustment. This work describes for the first time the detection of nanoplastics in a food matrix by AF4-MALS. Despite the current limitations, this is a promising methodology for detecting nanoplastics in food and in experimental studies (e.g., toxicity tests, uptake studies).

Graphical abstract

Basic concept for the detection of nanoplastics in fish by asymmetric flow field-flow fractionation coupled to multi-angle light scattering


Nanoplastics Asymmetric flow field-flow fractionation Nanoparticles Multi-angle light scattering Enzymatic digestion 



The seabass sample was kindly provided by the ECsafeSEAFOOD project (n° 311820) granted by the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013). The authors would like to thank the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration for financial support.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

216_2018_919_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (1 mb)
ESM 1 (PDF 1060 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division for Food Technology, National Food InstituteTechnical University of DenmarkLyngbyDenmark

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