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April 2016

Is That Plastic Container Safe?

Our food seems to constantly be touching plastic in some way, shape or form.  Food is processed on plastic equipment, packaged and shipped in plastic.  At home, we store and even reheat food in plastic containers.  Plastics make getting, eating, and storing food quick and easy.  But are these plastic containers also making us sick?  The safety of plastics in the food industry has been a concern for some time, especially with bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates.  These are chemicals used in the production of plastics to make them rigid, shatter-proof and clear.  There have been several studies linking BPA (and to a lesser degree phthalates) to potential health risks; mainly disrupting hormone function.  With this in mind, it raises questions about the safety of plastic containers.

The Transfer of Chemicals in Plastic to Food
It has been known for some time that chemicals from plastic containers get into food. This process is referred to as leaching.  The amounts are small, however regular monitoring by the CDC shows that 90% of the population have detectable levels of BPA in their urine.

Most of the chemicals in plastics are considered “safe” because they have not been proved to be “unsafe”.  There are two (2) chemicals that are being actively studied; bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates.

One large, well-conducted study showed that people with high levels of BPA in the urine had a higher rate of diabetes, heart disease, and liver toxicity.

To better understand the potential health risks of BPA, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the FDA are currently conducting a research program.  The areas of study include; breast and prostate cancer, immune function, obesity, diabetes and heart disease to determine possible links.

To Reduce Chemical Exposure from Plastics

  • Minimize heating foods in plastic containers in the microwave, even those that state “microwave safe”. The plastic can break down from high temperatures.
  • Do not microwave foods in containers from yogurt, cottage cheese or margarine tubs.  They are only for cold foods.
  • Plastic containers from microwavable meals are safely designed for one-time use.
  • Cover food with a paper towel instead of plastic when microwaving.
  • Discard scratched or worn plastic containers.
  • Check the code on the bottom of the plastic container.  The safest choices for food use are numbers 2, 4 and 5 along with BPA free.
  • Plastics with #1 are mainly for water and soda.  Try not to leave these bottles in a hot car.  They are designed for single use only. Recycle after use.
  • Is your “reusable” water bottle safe?  Check the code on the bottle, it should not be 1, 3, 6 or 7.

NOTE:  “BPA-Free” plastics may be of concern.  When these products were tested, approximately 25% had chemicals that may pose a health risk.


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