Plastic Safety: Reality vs. Hype

Which plastics are safe?What’s the real deal with plastic safety? If you’re like many of us here on altdotlife, you may have been wondering: Can you safely freeze, but not heat? Use Ziplok bags, but not cans of tomato sauce? How can you figure out what’s just hype, and what are real concerns?

Read more: So what’s the deal with plastics? or check out all our threads on plastic safety issues. Note: most of these are in health or parenting parts of the board, so remember to log in first.

What is so terrible about plastics? How much do I actually need to care about them?I am confused about exactly what the risks are, how to best reduce those risks, and what is really not worth worrying about. I know that several years ago (maybe a decade ago now?) I started seeing a lot of concerns about plastics, specifically BPA and phthalates, in food packaging, baby products, cosmetics, and other household products. I also know that much more recently, the FDA banned BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups, and that lots of big brands are now touting that their products have no BPA or phthalates (like Ziploc bags, long my go-to for freezer storage). Maybe I’m just a curmudgeon, but I feel like in the last few years I’ve seen a trend toward more glass (mason jars everywhere!), ceramic, iron, etc. food storage and kitchenware, wood baby toys and whatnot, but I have the impression that in many cases it seems to be more about a “look” or a signal that you are “green” than about any actual risk management.

And, as luck would have it, many alties have given this a lot of thought, either personally or professionally.

In addition to EWG’s good advice, what you want to avoid is essentially anything the will increase the likelihood of the plastic to leach into your food. You can’t practically avoid all plastic, but I use a few of the rationals below to decide when to use plastic and when to skip it. This includes:

  • heating plastics increases leaching
  • freezing food in plastic will not cause too much leaching, but remove the food from the plastic container (i.e. into a ceramic bowl) when you thaw it out
  • let food cool off in a ceramic dished before placing it into the plastic for freezing
  • storage of high oil content foods in plastic increases leaching (i.e. cheese tightly wrapped in thin saran wrap)
  • scratched/damaged plastic increases leaching
  • storage of wet foods in less durable (thin plastic containers) increases leaching
  • leaving the food in the plastic for a long time (unfrozen) increases leaching (i.e. use plastic for a food that you will eat soon, but glass for something you will eat later in the day or another day).

(Disclaimer – these are my own personal rules I follow based on my general (career related) knowledge of organic contaminants. I have no official references and this is not based on a detailed study)

Wondering about cans?

Cans are a sort of unique storm of all the leaching risk factors: Heat is used in the canning process. Canned foods (especially tomatoes) tend to be acidic. Canned foods tend to be salty (which also encourages leaching.)

This Snopes piece about BPA and cans is pretty good, I think. Reasonably balanced. Not OMG TOXINS, but also not a press release from a chemical lobbying group (and you’ll see those around too).

And this thread has given me my absolute favorite quote of the week:

“I’m not a toxicologist; I do sometimes read papers about plastics for fun.”

Image credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by Wallula Junction

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