Bread, milk, meat, yogurt, cheese, even fresh produce - most of the foods we buy are covered in plastic. The use of plastic is so commonplace that we may not stop to consider the impact it may have on our health. We must be as careful in the selection of the packaging as the food itself. Not only are we as healthy as the foods we eat, but as the containers we buy and store our food in. Why? The chemicals in plastic containers and in the lining of cans leach into the foods or beverages placed inside them.
Contaminants in food containers and storage wraps
How do you know if the can of your favorite organic soup is coated with dangerous chemicals? And what about the myriad of food products and containers we come in contact with daily? Some plastics are more stable than others and are less likely to break down or leach into its contents.
These harmful plastic chemicals are found in many food containers, and common household items.
BPA (Bisphenol A) is used commercially as a coating in food cans. BPA is a synthetic estrogen. When ingested it disrupts the reproductive system and adversely affects brain and nervous system development and causes other health problems.
BPS (bisphenol-S) was introduced as a safer alternative to BPA. However scientists at the University of Calgary research found that bisphenol-S causes the same abnormal growth surges of neurons in an animal embryo as was found with BPA, and is thus considered unsafe.
LDPE (Low-density polyethylene) and PVDC (polyvinylidene chloride) have been used in plastic food wrap since 2006, replacing phthalate. However, LDPE may contain DEHA another possible endocrine disrupter linked to breast cancer in women and low sperm counts in men. Since the actual chemical components of plastic wrap are not listed on the box, consumers beware. LPDE is also used to make grocery bags, frozen food bags and sandwich bags.
PS (polystyrene) aka Styrofoam is used to make carry-out food containers and coffee cups. Studies conducted on polystyrene linked it with neurological damage, reproductive issues, and various cancers.
V/PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is used in meat packaging and rigid plastic containers. PVC contains Phthalates which have been found to impact the endocrine system by disrupting hormones and are known carcinogens.
Buying BPA-free canned goods
How can consumers find out what harmful chemicals are lurking in canned goods, and other household items? In 2014, the Environmental Working Group analyzed 252 canned food brands produced by 119 companies to determine which companies packed their food into cans coated with BPA-laden epoxy. The results: 78 brands (31% of the brands sampled) used cans with BPA-based epoxy lining for all their products. 31 brands (12% of the brands sampled) used BPA-free cans for all their canned products. Check the EWG’s list to determine if your favorite brands of canned food products are free of BPA. Here is the link to their findings: http://www.ewg.org/research/bpa-canned-food.
Why you shouldn’t microwave or heat plastic food containers
Heating plastic containers or using plastic wrap in a microwave causes the BPA or other plastic chemicals to leach into its contents 55 times faster than when used cold or at room temperature. Putting hot foods or liquids into plastic containers has the same adverse effect. Transfer food from take-out containers to glass before reheating, to prevent the chemicals in the plastic from leaching into the food.
20 Ways to reduce the risk of exposure to BPA and other harmful plastic chemicals
- Hot beverages absorb chemicals in plastic at a much rapid rate. Don’t drink hot beverages from Styrofoam cups. When buying hot tea or coffee to-go pour it into your own ceramic, glass or stainless container.
- Use a refillable stainless steel K-cup instead of plastic when brewing single servings of coffee or hot tea.
- Never cover food with plastic wrap when microwaving. Cover the container or food with a paper towel or wax paper instead.
- Use glass pitchers instead of plastic, especially when brewing your own tea or coffee.
- Buy eggs, milk, orange juice, broths, soups and frozen vegetables in waxed paper boxes or cartons instead of plastic, when possible.
- Use paper plates instead of Styrofoam.
- Don’t leave plastic bottles of water or other beverages in a hot car. Heat increases the rate at which chemicals are leached into your drinks.
- Buy water and drinks in glass bottles.
- Use glass baby bottles instead of plastic.
- Avoid giving babies, infants and toddlers plastic toys.
- Feed pets in stainless steel or ceramic bowls. The chemicals in plastic have adverse health effects on our dogs and cats too.
- Purchase foods containing liquids and sauces in glass jars, instead of cans, especially tomato sauce, lemon juice and other acidic products.
- Buying canned foods with BPA-free labeling does not guarantee that their claim is accurate as regulatory or industry-wide accountability measures are non-existent. Shop using the brands listed on the Environmental Working Group list of BPA-free. (link given earlier in article.)
- Never heat or cook food in the can.
- Pack sandwiches, snacks and other lunch items in waxed paper bags instead of plastic.
- When using sealable food storage bags, wrap the sandwich and other food items in a white paper towel or waxed paper before inserting it into the plastic storage bag.
- Repackage meats wrapped in plastic before freezing. Freezer paper is coated with plastic, so it’s not the best option. Wrap meat in waxed or parchment paper and double wrap in aluminum foil or slip into a large freezer bag, making sure that the meat doesn’t touch the plastic or foil. Label contents and freeze.
- Freeze food in wide mouth jars specifically made for freezing, Pyrex glass containers, or stainless steel containers, with lids.
- Limit the use of plastics to their original use, especially if it is a disposable item. Don’t refill and reuse disposal plastic bottles or jugs. Don’t wash and reuse or microwave take-out containers.
- Discard scratched plastic food or beverage storage containers.
Deborah Tukua is the editor of Journey to Natural Living and the author of the healthy fresh from the blender recipe book, Naturally Sweet Blender Treats. Check out Lowell and Deborah's super sturdy and handsome DIY Gardening Potting Bench Plans. Deborah is a freelance writer for the Farmers' Almanac and Chiropractic Economics magazine and author of the book, Marketing Strategies for Chiropractic Success.