Plastics are really convenient, especially in the kitchen. However, there has recently been a lot of question about how safe it is for them to be in contact with so much of our food. The nation of Canada recently banned the use of PVC in baby bottles/cups, making it the first nation to officially acknowledge the growing body of evidence that shows plastics are making their way into our bodies.
Human hormones are nearly all manufactured (in our bodies) using fats, so it should come as no surprise that the addition of synthetic oils, such as plastic residues, can interfere with normal hormone processes. We would be wise to avoid these toxins much as possible.
Plastics of all types seem to leach into foods more when they are heated, subjected to harsh cleaning agents, and left in contact with wet or oily foods for extended periods. Some safer ways to use plastics:
- Never microwave. Ever.
- Don’t place in the dishwasher, rather hand wash with warm water and mild dish soap.
- Limit exposure to wet and greasy foods. Remember, plastic is made from oil (petroleum), so food grease becomes like a solvent for it, with the residue entering the food. Refrigerate/freeze wet or greasy foods in glass containers, rather than plastic bags.
- When using plastic wrap over a dish, don’t allow the wrap to touch the food inside.
- If you can “smell” plastic, you are actually smelling it off-gas. Avoid using actively off-gassing plastic with food, even dry foods.
- Don’t store drinking water in a plastic bottle. Choose stainless steel or glass for your sports bottle.
Best Choices for Food Storage
The safest material for food storage is glass. Virtually non-leaching, it has stood the test of time. Fortunately, it is readily available, and inexpensive. Canning jars are an easy, flexible solution for pantry, fridge, or freezer. There are also several lines of glass products made specifically for food storage, some with snapping plastic lids (choose from the “safer” list on the lids, and avoid letting the food touch the lid).
Purchasing food canned in glass jars, rather than tin cans, is the best choice when available. Although tin is not considered toxic to humans (it’s a trace mineral we actually need in small amounts), most people in developed countries have elevated levels of this mineral, likely from tin cans. Of even greater concerns is the plastics used to line/seal tin cans; whether they are on the “safer” or “to avoid” lists below, it is likely that there was heat involved in the processing and the food has absorbed some amount of plastic.
Safer Plastic Choices:
Select safe plastics that use polyethylene (#1, #2, and #4) and polypropylene (#5), which require the use of less toxic additives. They also are non-chlorinated. Where do you find these numbers? Turn the item over and look for the symbol.
Plastics to Avoid:
Avoid choosing products that use polyvinyl chloride (#3), polystyrene (#6), and polycarbonate (#7) which often are found in baby bottles or sippy cups.
What to do with these unsafe plastics? If the containers are useful for storage elsewhere (garden shed, etc.) consider reuse, otherwise recycle before they can be accidentally returned to use in the kitchen (baby cups).