Many of us have an overflowing kitchen cupboard of plastic containers to store our leftovers.
But as awareness grows over the health and environmental pitfalls of plastic, some consumers may be wondering: is it time to ditch that stash of old deli containers?
Only 9% of all the plastic waste ever created has been recycled. From its contributions to global heating and pollution, to the chemicals and microplastics that migrate into our bodies, the food chain and the environment, the true cost of this cheap material is becoming more apparent.
There are thousands of compounds found in plastic products across the food chain, and relatively little is known about most of them. But what we do know of some chemicals contained in plastic is concerning.
Phthalates, for example, which are used to make plastic more flexible and are found in food packaging and plastic wrap, have been found by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in measurable levels across the US population (including in the body of Guardian journalist Emily Holden). They have been linked to reproductive dysfunction in animal studies and some researchers have suggested links to decreased fertility, neurodevelopmental issues and asthma in humans.
BPA, another chemical widely added to food plastics and can linings, has been subject to increasing regulations after studies linked the chemical to neonatal and infant brain and reproductive harm. But BPS and BPF, two common replacements used in products marketed as BPA-free, may have similar effects to their predecessor: studies out of both the University of Texas and Washington State University found that even at a dose of one part per trillion, BPS could disrupt cell functioning. A 2019 study from New York University linked childhood obesity with BPS and BPF.
There are many other chemicals added to plastic during production, and researchers concede that many gaps remain in our understanding of how they affect health and development. But research that is adding to concerns about the miracle material is growing.
Food containers are just one link in a massive chain of plastic products that touch things we eat, from coated conveyer belts in food production lines to disposable clamshells for delicate berries, clear carrot bags and milk jugs.
Researchers say it is difficult to answer which plastic containers are safe without greater transparency about what chemicals make up everyday plastic materials.
In 2019, the Food Packaging Forum (FPF), a Switzerland-based not-for-profit focused on the science behind food packaging, compiled a database of more than 900 chemicals likely associated with plastic food packaging production worldwide and another 3,400 possibly used. Of those 4,300 chemicals, 60% did not have any available hazard data, researchers found.
[The] known knowns are the ones Im going to gravitate to in terms of concern, said Dr Leo Trasande, director of the Center for the Investigation of Environmental Hazards at New York Universitys Grossman School of Medicine, referring to well-known plastic additives such as BPA and phthalates. The reality is there are many unknown unknowns that may be as problematic.
In 1988 the plastics industry came up with standardized identification codes for the seven most common types of plastic resin in circulation. Those little numbers found on the bottom of soda bottles and yogurt tubs clue you in to what type of plastic youre eating or drinking out of. Most food containers both takeout containers and kinds meant for reuse are made of low-density polyethylene (4) or polypropylene (5).
Researchers arent exactly sure how much chemical exposure occurs from food packaging and storage containers, but they know plastic isnt a completely stable material. Trasande said that when exposed to heat for example, in the microwave and dishwasher polyethylene and polypropylene can break down, leaching unknown chemicals into food and drink. Oily foods are also thought to attract some plastic chemicals.
The complex chemistry needed to make plastics makes it hard to know exactly what other chemicals are found in plastic food containers, said Jane Muncke, managing director and chief scientific officer at the FPF. (The FPF, one of the few to study food packing exclusively, receives much of its funding from the glass packaging industry, though Muncke said its research priorities are set independently of funders.)
Free radicals and reaction by-products are formed during plastic production so that the chemical ingredients you started with might not be the actual composition of the final product. There are also impurities and so-called non-intentionally added substances (Nias) in the original source materials that accumulate alongside known chemical ingredients.
Not even manufacturers, Muncke said, know exactly what the chemical composition is of the materials of their product down to the last little molecule.
Additionally, few studies exist on end-product plastic chemicals, rather than individual source chemicals. In a paper published last year in the Environmental Science & Technology journal, German and Norwegian researchers used samples of real-world plastic items such as shampoo bottles, yogurt cups and refillable water bottles to test their effect on cells in a laboratory. They found compounds in consumer plastics that are toxic in vitro, but are largely unidentified.
The Plastics Industry Association (Plastics), a trade group, disputed researchers claims of questionable safety.
All plastics used in food packaging go through rigorous testing. By the time any type of plastic food packaging even makes it to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), its already been tested several times by chemists and toxicologists. Plastic food and beverage containers may be used safely in the freezer, microwave, dishwasher or a combination of all three when these uses are labeled on the package, a spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
The FDA has oversight of any food contact substance (FCS), a category that includes reusable food storage and takeaway containers, as well as food manufacturing surfaces and original packaging.
But some experts question the rigor behind the FDAs standards, in part because the agency relies on manufacturers to determine the safety of any chemicals used across the food system.
The FDA reviews toxicological data from manufacturers on any new FCS. But the agency doesnt regulate how manufacturers perform their testing; instead the agency provides recommendations. And even those recommendations dont align with the latest science on chemical toxicology testing, said Maricel Maffini, an independent consultant and expert on food additives.
For example, manufacturers dont actually have to provide toxicology data for substances they use if they estimate human exposure falls below 0.5 parts per billion (ppb). Yet scientists believe some endocrine disrupting chemicals can have effects at even lower amounts, particularly in vulnerable populations like infants and pregnant women.
The approach also doesnt account for cumulative exposure. If you think about all the chemicals that we already know are endocrine disruptors that are in the diet, Im sure that we may be exposed to more than cumulatively, collectively we are exposed to more than 0.5 parts per billion, Maffini said.
What about claims that plastic containers are microwave- and dishwasher-safe?
Under FDA law, its also up to manufacturers to set the conditions of use of any product, including whether it is microwave-safe or dishwasher-safe, or even reusable. It would be up to the manufacturer to ensure that their product is properly labelled for safety under its intended use, an FDA spokesperson said via email.
Even for containers labeled safe for the microwave and dishwasher, experts caution that heat and plastic dont mix well. Since heat helps to break the chemical bonds in plastic, its possible that exposure to high temperatures increases the rate of chemical migration from the container into the food. Scientists have documented higher rates of chemical migration even in water bottles left in the sun.
FDAs deference to manufacturers on conditions of use also means that deli and restaurant takeout containers, which many people reuse and wash in the dishwasher, might not be built for that type of wear and tear. Without more testing and transparency from the FDA and manufacturers, experts cant say whether theyre leaching chemicals at a higher rate than reusable containers.
There is sufficient evidence that exposure to these chemicals is problematic
Manufacturers can also rely on ingredients that were approved in some cases decades ago to make their products, even if the science has since evolved to raise new safety questions.
Once a chemical or mixture or polymer is approved, it is there forever. There is no reassessment or look back to whether what was considered safe in 1962 is still safe now based on advances in scientific knowledge or exposure to that particular compound in the population, Maffini said.
Trasande conceded there are clearly still gaps in our knowledge about large a role food packaging plays in our everyday exposure to thousands of chemicals. Still, there is sufficient evidence that exposure to these chemicals is problematic.
He co-authored a 2018 policy statement for the American Academy of Pediatrics focused on the unknown risks that food additives and contact chemicals pose to infants and young children, advocating for more studies and updated regulations.
None of us are arguing that each and every one of these chemicals are by themselves toxic. Were not trying to take ourselves back to the 1700s, he said. There needs to be new science, and there needs to be requirements for disclosing what chemicals are used.
Given all of these unknowns, along with the catastrophic environmental impact of our addiction to plastic, here are some tips for lowering your plastic dependence and keeping it out of your food:
Switch to glass or metal containers when possible.
Avoid heat, including the microwave and dishwasher, especially when it comes to takeout containers and other forms of plastic not meant for reuse.
Plastic doesnt last forever (even if some of the chemicals it contains might) avoid scratched and discolored plastic and pay attention to expiration dates on products such as SodaStream bottles.
Dont store fatty or oily foods in plastic many chemicals used in plastic are fat soluble and are more likely to leach into fatty food.
Cut down on plastic water bottles, which contribute to the widespread ingestion of microplastics.
Consider replacing your plastic wrap with a reusable option, like beeswax wrap.
Originally posted here:
Are plastic containers safe for our food? Experts say its hard to know - The Guardian
- Which foods will survive the apocalypse? - BBC News - March 31st, 2020
- Infant and Young Child Feeding in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic - Eastern, Central and Southern Africa - Africanews English - March 31st, 2020
- Can Essential Oils Help To Safely Get Rid of UTIs? - Everyday Health - March 27th, 2020
- 10 ways to share during the coronavirus pandemic - Shareable - March 27th, 2020
- Ensure That You Eat Healthy And Stay Fit While In Isolation - Femina - March 26th, 2020
- Coronavirus: Supplements that could boost your immune system during COVID-19 pandemic - Express - March 26th, 2020
- Happy to be safely home - Winnipeg Free Press - March 25th, 2020
- 7 Safe, Smart, Sanitary Habits to Use When Ordering Takeout and Delivery - Yahoo Lifestyle - March 25th, 2020
- Governor Newsom Deploys National Guard to Protect Food Security in California - One Green Planet - March 25th, 2020
- How to Treat Yourself at Home if You Have Mild COVID-19 Symptoms - Healthline - March 25th, 2020
- Sick at home with COVID-19: How to care for your loved ones infected with coronavirus - USA TODAY - March 23rd, 2020
- What you can do when you need to lose weight swiftly - The Upcoming - March 23rd, 2020
- Coronavirus: WHO on how to stay safe - The Brussels Times - March 23rd, 2020
- Contact-free home deliveries:how to support cool, independent businesses and get fresh food delivered to your door - Homes and Property - March 23rd, 2020
- IBS and Popcorn: Do They Go Together? - Healthline - March 23rd, 2020
- Yale researchers say artificial sweeteners can make healthy people sick if they are paired with this - Ladders - March 23rd, 2020
- Aimmune Announces First US Patients Are Being Treated with Newly-Approved PALFORZIA, the First Treatment for Peanut Allergy - BioSpace - March 16th, 2020
- As coronavirus spreads, is it safe to go to the gym? - TODAY - March 16th, 2020
- How to ace care packages: delivering food for family and friends in need - Good Food - March 16th, 2020
- Eating in the time of coronavirus - Los Angeles Times - March 15th, 2020
- Mini masterchefs: the benefits of teaching children how to cook - The National - March 15th, 2020
- U.K. Scientists Paying People $4,000 to Get Infected with Coronaviruses - Newsweek - March 15th, 2020
- Lettuce is overrated: FDA's leafy greens STEC action - Barfblog - March 15th, 2020
- 'Sister Wives': Janelle Brown Shares How the Brown Family's Religion Is Helping Them Prepare for the Coronavirus Pandemic - Showbiz Cheat Sheet - March 15th, 2020
- Inside the daring mission to reach the bottom of all Earth's oceans - Wired.co.uk - March 15th, 2020
- Is coffee good for you? It depends on the kind of coffee and the quantity - Borneo Bulletin Online - March 15th, 2020
- 10 Tips For Preparing To Stay At Home Due To The Coronavirus - BuzzFeed News - March 12th, 2020
- Scarsdale Diet Plan: Benefits, Risks and Results - LIVESTRONG.COM - March 12th, 2020
- Space-Grown Lettuce Is Safe and Astronaut-Approved - The Scientist - March 12th, 2020
- Certified Vegan Course at Limerick College of Further Education - FFT.ie - March 12th, 2020
- How to stock your pantry if you're worried about a coronavirus quarantine - The Globe and Mail - March 12th, 2020
- Safety First: Cold Weather Benefits of Exercising Outdoors - Legal Reader - March 12th, 2020
- 27 countries and regions restrict entry from Japan over coronavirus crisis - The Japan Times - March 12th, 2020
- Know causes of rectal bleeding and the steps to be taken - Onmanorama - March 12th, 2020
- Feeding your dog from the table: What you can and can't do, according to veterinarian - Fox News - March 9th, 2020
- OPINION: Fluoridated water IS about healthy children and teeth! - Rio Blanco Herald Times - March 9th, 2020
- FDA Outlines 2020 Action Plan to Advance the Safety of Leafy Greens - FDA.gov - March 9th, 2020
- At the heart of the matter - News for the Oil and Gas Sector - Energy Voice - March 9th, 2020
- Six out of ten adults in England have high cholesterol but there are no symptoms - Mirror Online - March 9th, 2020
- TV guide: 23 of the best shows to watch this week - The Irish Times - March 9th, 2020
- Cholera cases reported in Bengaluru: Know symptoms and prevention of this water-borne disease - The Indian Express - March 9th, 2020
- Space-grown lettuce to give astronauts a more varied diet - The Guardian - March 7th, 2020
- How Do You Train a Zebra? - Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute - March 7th, 2020
- How to Effectively and Safely Train Your Dog - Nature World News - March 7th, 2020
- Climate Change Will Turn These Common Foods Toxic - VICE - March 7th, 2020
- 18 health myths that are outdated and wrong - CNET - March 7th, 2020
- Is Intermittent Fasting While Pregnant Safe? - Everything To Know - Women's Health - March 7th, 2020
- Last Word on teachers pay, March 7 - Daily Press - March 7th, 2020
- "It spread quickly, sending my body into acute septic shock": How flesh-eating disease nearly killed a Toronto tech CEO - Toronto Life - March 7th, 2020
- How to Lose Weight Fast: 3 Simple Steps, Based on Science - Healthline - March 7th, 2020
- Reimaging Transportation in Alexandria - Alexandria Living Magazine - March 1st, 2020
- High Protein Diet: The Healthy Paneer Tikki Is Too Delicious To Refuse! - NDTV Food - March 1st, 2020
- The Incredible Story of Finn, the Steer Who Escaped Slaughter and Hid from Humans for Weeks Before Being Taken to a Sanctuary - One Green Planet - March 1st, 2020
- D-III Draft Prospect Ben Bartch Drank an Unholy Concoction to Pack on 60 Pounds - Sports Illustrated - March 1st, 2020
- Is Whey Protein Good For Women? - Version Weekly - March 1st, 2020
- Study Says This Nut Supports Healthy Aging More Than Any Other - mindbodygreen.com - February 29th, 2020
- Gomberg: I fell while holding my son, and a surprising thing is helping me get over hurting him - Salt Lake Tribune - February 29th, 2020
- Health beat: Get moving! The benefits and recommendations for exercise - The Deming Headlight - February 29th, 2020
- 10 Life-changing Wellness Trips to Take in 2020 - Travel+Leisure - February 29th, 2020
- Her parents taught her grit, caring for others. She's using those traits to fight heart disease. - Thrive Global - February 29th, 2020
- Everything you need to know about caring for a pet rabbit - Mirage News - February 29th, 2020
- This surprising ingredient is the secret to making the perfect bacon - msnNOW - February 29th, 2020
- Anti-Inflammatory Diet: What Are The Health Benefits? - Women's Health - February 24th, 2020
- Is Growth Hormone Safe: Widespread Fear of HGH Therapy - Gazette Review - February 24th, 2020
- Birds learn from other birds on TV to make better food decisions - CNET - February 24th, 2020
- How to Work Out Effectively Without Completely Giving Up Alcohol - VICE - February 24th, 2020
- Keto Diet Dangers You Should Know About - February 21st, 2020
- Is Intermittent Fasting Safe For Women? All Your Questions Answered - mindbodygreen.com - February 21st, 2020
- Insects grown on food waste are safe to use in animal feed - All about feed - February 21st, 2020
- Is Dry Shampoo Bad For Your Hair? Potential Health Risks And How To Use It Safely - YourTango - February 21st, 2020
- 7 Questions You Have About The Love Is Blind Pods, Answered By The Cast Who Fell In Love In Them - Refinery29 - February 21st, 2020
- This weight loss pill may increase your risk of cancer - NewsDio - February 21st, 2020
- Eating in moderation a fallacy - The Star, Kenya - February 18th, 2020
- Recipe of the Day: Ahi Tuna Zoodler - KSDK.com - February 18th, 2020
- Private zoo in Mineola to close after recent break-in that released monkey - Longview News-Journal - February 18th, 2020
- Busting the meat myth... and Maasai paradox - nation.co.ke - February 18th, 2020
- Heartburn at night: Causes and remedies - Medical News Today - February 18th, 2020
- What Is Mycoprotein? Meet the Vegan Meat Ingredient of the Future - LIVEKINDLY - February 18th, 2020
- Why do we love fat cats and dogs but discriminate against fat people? - NBC News - February 18th, 2020
- Locke & Key Shows the Problem with Trying to Make a Hit TV Show from an Algorithm - IndieWire - February 18th, 2020