Practical Options to Store Your Food without Contaminating Them With Plastics

By Dr. Mercola

You’re probably aware that I have long suggested you throw away your non-stick cookware because of the risks it poses to your health.

This advice also applies to virtually all plastics you’re using in your kitchen, as the health risks are quite steep.

Why Plastic Doesn’t Belong in Your Kitchenware

The fact that plastic is unbreakable and easily moldable into every conceivable shape, size, color and use makes it incredibly useful and tempting to use, especially if you have children who drop dishes often.

But plastic is not an inert substance nor is it a non-toxic one — and the chemicals it contains are actually most dangerous for infants and children, who often use them most, along with pregnant women.

Plastic can be very useful but it is important to understand that it may contain a hazardous mix of chemicals and additives, such as:

  • PBDEs, which cause reproductive problems
  • Phthalates, another group of reproductive toxins
  • BPA (bisphenol-A), which disrupts the endocrine system by mimicking the female hormone estrogen

As you may be aware, these chemicals do not magically stay inside the plastic as though it is some type of impermeable fortress. They leach into whatever food or beverage you put in them, in amounts that vary depending on your use. For instance, if you microwave plastic containers or bottles, or put hot liquids or foods into them, BPA leaches into your food or drink 55 times faster than when used cold! There is also evidence that chemicals leach from plastic faster when the container is:

  • Old and scratched
  • Frequently put in a dishwasher
  • Washed with harsh detergents

Increasingly, people are looking for food sources that are free from chemicals and additives, so the last thing you want to do is douse your natural food and water with chemicals because you are using plastic kitchenware.

Health Consequences of Plastics Chemicals

One of the most widely publicized plastic dangers is from the chemical BPA, which is an endocrine disruptor, meaning it mimics your body’s natural hormones and can trigger major changes in your body. Of 115 published animal studies, 81 percent found significant effects from even low-level exposure to BPA.

Some of the greatest concern surrounds early-life exposure to BPA, which can lead to chromosomal errors in your developing fetus, causing spontaneous miscarriages and genetic damage. And exposure to just 0.23 parts per billion of BPA is enough to disrupt the effect of estrogen in your baby’s developing brain.

But BPA is only one plastics chemical you need to be aware of. Phthalates are another group of industrial chemicals used to make plastics like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) more flexible and resilient. They’re common in food packaging and also are one of the most pervasive endocrine disrupters so far discovered. These chemicals have increasingly become associated with changes in the development of the male brain as well as with genital defects, metabolic abnormalities and reduced testosterone in babies and adults.

What About BPA-Free and Other “Safe” Plastics?

Given that certain plastics risks are becoming well-known, you’ve probably seen plastic products that tout they are “BPA-free,” “PVC-free,” or “Phthalate-free.” This is a step in the right direction, but it does not mean the plastic is safe.

For instance, one study found that tests on plastics using a BPA-free label have not been conducted under real-world conditions like running the plastics through a dishwasher or heating them in a microwave. In the “real-world,” 95 percent of all plastic products in the study tested positive for estrogenic activity, meaning they can still disrupt your hormones even if they carry a BPA-free label. Even more disconcerting, the study found that BPA-free plastics in some cases leached more BPA than the non-BPA free plastics.

Further, just because a plastic claims to not have one or two toxic chemicals, it again does not make it safe. Remember, there are many chemicals in plastics that you are better off avoiding, and many of them are still largely unknown to consumers. The Ecology Center in Berkeley, California has put together an excellent list that exposes just what kinds of plastic toxins are in the products you use. I think everyone should read the entire list, but here are some highlights:

  • Salad dressing and cooking oil bottles: This plastic container is made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride), which leaches plasticizers (lead, cadmium, mercury, phthalates and the carcinogen, diethyl hexyphosphate) into your food.
  • Soda bottles, water bottles, peanut butter jars and cooking oil bottles: Made from PET (polyethylene terephthalate), they leach acetaldehyde — a probable human carcinogen, according to the EPA — into your food and drinks.
  • Meat trays, foam take-out food containers and cups, foam packing materials: Made from polystyrene (PS), these materials leach styrene, which can damage your nervous system, into your food.

Sadly, the end result of breathing, eating, drinking and absorbing all of this plastic includes obesity, declining fertility rates and other reproductive problems, and cancer, just to name a few.

There are Safe Alternatives to Plastic for Your Kitchen

Replacing your plastic kitchenware should not cause much of an imposition, as safer replacements are widely available. I recommend glass or ceramic as your materials of choice when it comes to dishware, glassware, and food storage containers, and stainless steel or high-heat-resistant nylon for utensils. If you choose ceramic, make sure the glaze used is free of heavy metals or contaminants.

Remember, though, plastic is found not only in your kitchenware but also in processed food packaging. This includes canned foods (soda, soup, infant formula, vegetables, etc.), which typically have a plastic lining. So modifying your diet to include primarily fresh, whole foods that you purchase at a farmer’s market or food coop will have the added benefit of helping you cut down on exposure to plastic chemicals that are common in the food packages sold at most supermarkets.

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