Three Steps to Safer Use of Food Plastics

It isn’t easy to make safe and healthy choices when it comes to plastic. Not much is known about health risks associated with exposure to most resins.  Meanwhile, it is close to impossible to know as a consumer what plastics are used in products and packaging. The numbers included on the labeling in a package for food only identifies the main resin. There may be any amount of unnamed chemicals added to resins to make plastic packaging. Meanwhile other products are not labels at all. 

However, there are some plastics that are known to be worse and there are ways to minimize potential risk.

1. Avoid the known problem plastics:

  • Polycarbonates contain Bisphenol A (BPA) which is a known hormone disrupter that can cause cancers and developmental problems. These plastics are labeled #7 (however, #7 is used for other resins as well). BPA was used in baby bottles and water bottles, but public awareness has led the public to demand alternatives. In some states it is illegal to use BPA in baby products. BPA can still be found in adult products or lining for canned food.
  • Polystyrene (#6) is toxic to the brain and nervous system to workers exposed to it over a prolonged period. This resin is mostly found in take away containers and Styrofoam(tm).
  • Polyvinyl chloride, also known as vinyl or PVC (#3), poses risks to the environment and human health. Its manufacture is highly toxic and its use requires additional toxic stabilizers. This plastic is mostly found in cling wraps.
  • Phthalates are hormone disruptors. They are an additive in products and packaging such as baby toys, flooring and cling wrap that makes plastic pliable. Because they are additives rather than a resin, they do not have a plastic number. Almost all flexible plastics have phthalates in them.

2. Minimize leaching or off-gassing: Plastic numbers 1, 2, 4, and 5 appear to be fairly stable when at room temperature. However, heating plastics may cause chemicals to seep into the food or release chemicals into the air. Take foods out of plastic packaging and place on ceramic or Pyrex glass before microwaving. Avoid extreme temperatures in the dishwasher. If you plan to reuse the plastic, wash it by hand in tepid water. Avoid storing fatty foods in plastic as fats can also absorb plastic chemicals more easily.

3. Use alternatives to plastics: Choose fresh produce and grains that were delivered free of packaging. Drink tap water from a reusable (BPA-free) water bottle or a glass. Use a ceramic plate and steel silverware. Bring food to work in your own glass or BPA free steel container. Store food in canning jars (note: the red liner in canning jars do contain BPA).

Share ways you avoid plastics in the comments section.