Most Americans don’t think twice about plastic touching their food. Produce is purchased in plastic bags, food is stored in plastic lined cans, saved as leftovers in plastic, microwaved in plastic and often even eaten with plastic utensils. It’s so ubiquitous that that most people think it’s innocuous.
In the past few years though, it’s become clear that we should rethink our stance on plastic. In 2008 the FDA stated that BPA in plastic was safe, but after more research there is now a ban on BPA containing plastic baby bottles in Washington, Wisconsin and several other states, as well as Canada and the European Union. Questions around BPA have also caused us to question other plasticizers and we are now discovering that all plastic dishware, storage and cooking containers leave a trace of the plastic chemical in our foods and beverages.
The top plastic ingredients that are a cause for concern are:
Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)
- Used in: Soda or water bottles, nut butter containers, cooking oil bottles, detergent and cleaner bottles
- Migrated byproduct: Acetaldehyde, Antimony, phthalate acid esters (discussed below)
- PET has the number “1” as its recycling symbol
- Used in: milk and water jugs, plastic produce bags and grocery sacks, yogurt Cups, food storage containers
- Migrated byproduct: BHT, Chimassorb 81, Irganox PS 800, Irganix 1076, Irganox 1010
- Potential side effects: hyperactivity, increased cancer riskH
- High density PE (HDPE) has the number “2” as its recycling symbol, low density (LDPE) is number “4”
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
- Used in: bottles used for water, salad dressing, detergent , cooking oils and nut butters, shampoo, and mouth wash, plastic wrap, baby teething Rings, pacifiers, nipples and toys
- Migrated byproduct: Plasticizers (Lead, Cadmium, Mercury, phthalate acid esters and the carcinogen, Diethyl Hexyphosphate)
- PVC has the number “3” as its recycling symbol
- Used in: disposable plates and cutlery, meat trays and egg cartons, foam take-out food containers & cups, foam packing material
- Migrated byproduct: Styrene
- Potential side effects: Migrates into food and stores in body fat. Elevated rates of lymphatic and hematopoietic cancers for workers in polystyrene facilities , increased cancer risk in animals
- Polystyrene has the number “6” as its recycling symbol.
Phthalate Acid Esters (PAEs) commonly called phthalates
- Used in: pesticides on plants (accumulates in livestock we eat), plastic packaging and wrappers
- Migrated byproduct: Phthalates themselves
- Potential side effects: endocrine disruptors: increases adiposity and insulin resistance, decreased concentration of estrogen and testosterone, decrease sperm count, decreased anogenital distance in baby boys
- Used for: baby bottles, toys, pacifiers and sippy cups, food storage containers and plastic microwavable plates, ovenware and utensils, tooth sealants, plastic milk and water bottles and in the lining of soda and canned foods.
- Migrated byproduct: BPA itself, which imitates the hormone estradiol; released when heated, washed or exposed to acidic foods
- Potential side effects in animal studies: increased risk for certain cancers, hyperactivity, early puberty, increased fat formation, abnormal sexual behavior, disrupted reproductive cycles, structural damage to the brain,
- Polycarbonates with BPA have the number “7” as their recycling symbol
Teflon (polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE))
- Used for: nonstick coatings on pots and pans, microwave popcorn containers, candy wrappers, pizza boxes
- Migrated byproduct: Teflon itself when scratched or damaged at high heat
- Potential side effects: degradation gas byproducts can be lethal to birds, linked to birth defects in humans, possible thyroid interaction
It’s important to note that almost every item we come in contact to has a risk to us, even water. It’s the dose that makes the poison.
To protect yourself and your family there are simple steps you can take.
- Use glass baby bottles with silicon nipples and choose powdered rather than liquid infant formula.
- Drink your liquids from glass, ceramic or stainless steel containers. Avoid using number “7” and number “3” bottles, even if marked BPA-free as they are high in BPS which hasn’t been proven safe.
- Limit your intake of canned foods unless marked BPA-free on the can.
- Never preheat your nonstick cookware on high and run the exhaust fan over the stove while cooking to decrease fumes.
- Use a paper towel instead of plastic wrap in the microwave and put food on a plate to heat.
- Store food in glass or Pyrex containers or stainless steel rather than plastic. Planetbox (http://www.planetbox.com) makes great bento box style containers.
- Discard scratched or worn plastic containers and hand wash plastics to reduce wear and tear.
A good general source to learn more about plastic is http://www.ecologycenter.org/factsheets/plastichealtheffects.html