Day 44–Non-toxic Food Storage

Almost all the plastic ever produced still exists on earth. That totally creeps me out.

One of the jobs I have been meaning to tackle involves researching food storage safety, and finding out more about plastics and food safety. After reading many articles and several studies, my take on it is that no one really knows the full extent of plastic safety, and most scientists and health advocates recommend further study of plastics and food.

Most people are familiar with BPA (bisphenol-A) by now and many manufacturers (including Tupperware, Glad and Ziploc)  have worked hard to create BPA-free products. BPA is known to damage the reproduction systems of animals and its ability to mimic estrogen is thought to contribute to prostate and breast cancer. But really, is BPA the only thing to worry about? Food microwaved in BPA-free plastic still tastes weird, leading me (not a scientist by any stretch) to think that there is more to it than just BPA. Indeed, many plastics also leach phthalates. Banned in Europe, Japan, Mexico and Argentina. The U.S.? Nope.

Here is the crazy thing. Leaching petrochemicals and other potential toxins into your food is ALLOWED by the FDA if they are present in levels the FDA deems to be “safe”. Note that these materials have not been proven “safe,” they just haven’t been proven “unsafe.”

Considering the FDA’s lackadaisical record for food supply safety lately and combining that with the plastic industry’s heavy-handed lobby, I think I’m not feeling to trustworthy of their definition of “safe.”

But plastics are EVERYWHERE, even in the linings of your canned food and the linings of jar lids. How can you avoid them or at least reduce your risk to known and potential carcinogens? I’ve crossed checked several sources and put together a list of tips on how to reduce your family’s exposure to plastics. Ready? Here goes!

  1. Know your numbers–every plastic has a number on it (usually on the bottom of the container). Numbers 1,2,4, and 5 are thought to be safer (not SAFE, but SAFER) to use with food. Numbers 3,6 and 7 should be avoided, as these plastics are known to be unstable, especially if reused.
  2. Never serve or store hot foods in plastic. As plastics warm and soften, they can leach petrochemicals and other toxins into your food.
  3. Do not store high fat foods in plastic. For similar reasons as above, high fat foods interact with the plastic in such a way that transfer of chemicals and toxins are more likely.
  4. Never microwave food in plastic. Not only can toxins leach into your food due to warming, toxins present in the steam can be inhaled.
  5. Avoid using deli or plastic wrap. When shopping, you can ask your deli to use unbleached paper or unbleached waxed paper only. Or you can transfer your products into safer packaging when you get home.
  6. Store and reheat your leftovers in glass containers. Unlike many plastics, you can reuse jars as long as they are cleaned well.
  7. Buy pots and pans without Teflon or other non-stick coatings. If you use non-stick pans, run your kitchen ventilation system while you cook.

My weekend task was to clean out all of our plastic food storage and relegate those containers for camping equipment and craft supplies. We now have glass food containers in various sizes for our leftovers. Bed, Bath and Beyond has sets that are affordable ($19 for a set of 5–less if you have your coupon!) and Crate and Barrel also has some that look good, but are a bit pricier. I have to say, I feel a sense of relief knowing that we have made a small, but meaningful step toward reducing our household toxicity!