Quantitative image analysis of microplastics in bottled water using artificial intelligence

Clementina Vitali*, Ruud J.B. Peters, Hans Gerd Janssen, Anna K. Undas, Sandra Munniks, Francesco Simone Ruggeri*, Michel W.F. Nielen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The ubiquitous occurrence of microplastics (MPs) in the environment and the use of plastics in packaging materials result in the presence of MPs in the food chain and exposure of consumers. Yet, no fully validated analytical method is available for microplastic (MP) quantification, thereby preventing the reliable estimation of the level of exposure and, ultimately, the assessment of the food safety risks associated with MP contamination. In this study, a novel approach is presented that exploits interactive artificial intelligence tools to enable automation of MP analysis. An integrated method for the analysis of MPs in bottled water based on Nile Red staining and fluorescent microscopy was developed and validated, featuring a partial interrogation of the filter and a fully automated image processing workflow based on a Random Forest classifier, thereby boosting the analysis speed. The image analysis provided particle count, size and size distribution of the MPs. From these data, a rough estimation of the mass of the individual MPs, and consequently of the MP mass concentration in the sample, could be obtained as well. Critical materials, method performance characteristics, and final applicability were studied in detail. The method showed to be highly sensitive in sizing MPs down to 10 μm, with a particle count limit of detection and quantification of 28 and 85 items/500 mL, respectively. Linearity of mass concentration determined between 10 ppb and 1.5 ppm showed a regression coefficient (R2) of 0.99. Method precision was demonstrated by a repeatability of 9–16% RSD (n = 7) and within-laboratory reproducibility of 15–27% RSD (n = 21). Accuracy based on recovery was 92 ± 15% and 98 ± 23% at a level of 0.1 and 1.0 ppm, respectively. The quantitative performance characteristics thus obtained complied with regulatory requirements. Finally, the method was successfully applied to the analysis of twenty commercial samples of bottled water, with and without gas and flavor additives, yielding results ranging from values below the limit of detection to 7237 (95% CI [6456, 8088]) items/500 mL.

Original languageEnglish
Article number124965
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2024


  • Artificial intelligence
  • Bottled water
  • Fluorescence microscopy
  • Method validation
  • Microplastic
  • Nile red


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