Is Storing and cooking Food in Plastic Containers Safe?

By Nutrition Expert – Trupti Gurav,Mumbai

Plastic is everywhere. Many of us have an overflowing kitchen cupboard of plastic containers to store our leftovers. It’s in bowls, wraps, and a host of bottles and bags used to store foods and beverages. But in recent years more people have been asking whether exposing our food (and ourselves) to all of this plastic is safe.

Plastic containers are containers made exclusively or partially of plastic. Plastic containers are ubiquitous either as single-use or reuse able/durable plastic cups, plastic bottles, plastic bags, foam food containers, Tupperware, plastic tubes, clamshells, cosmetic containers, up to intermediate bulk containers and various types of containers made of corrugated plastic. [1].

Certain chemicals in plastic can leach out of the plastic and into the food and beverages we eat. Some of these chemicals have been linked to health problems such as metabolic disorders (including obesity) and reduced fertility. This leaching can occur even faster and to a greater degree when plastic is exposed to heat. This means you might be getting an even higher dose of potentially harmful chemicals simply by microwaving your leftovers in a plastic container. [2]

Heating food in plastic seems to increase the amount that’s transferred to food. Migration also increases when plastic touches fatty, salty, or acidic foods. [3]

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).

BPA, another chemical widely added to food plastics, 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. [5]

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. [4]

How to keep plastic out your food

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: [6][7][8]

  1. Avoid heat, including the microwave and dishwasher, especially when it comes to takeout containers and other forms of plastic not meant for reuse.
  2. Plastic doesn’t 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 Soda Stream bottles.
  3. Don’t store fatty or oily foods in plastic – many chemicals used in plastic are fat soluble and are more likely to leach into fatty food.
  4. Consider replacing your plastic wrap with a reusable option, like beeswax wrap.
  5. Reduce take-out and fast food.
  6. Eat more fresh food.
  7. Use glass or ceramic bowls or dishes to heat food or drinks in the microwave.
  8. Use glass, ceramic, wood, or stainless steel containers for storage.
  9. Use cloth or canvas bags for shopping.
  10. Let food cool to room temperature before putting it into plastic storage containers. Whenever possible, use glass or ceramic containers.
  11. Buy prepared soups, sauces and condiments in glass jars. Wash and save them for reuse.
  12. Hand wash plastic containers. Plastic containers leach chemicals onto other dishes in the dishwasher.
  13. Reheating or cooking food in a plastic container (even if it is marked microwave safe), is not safe as the plastic upon heating release a certain kind of chemical which will further leach into the food changing its genetic components.

How to identify the right plastic containers [7]

Not all plastic containers release harmful chemicals, so no need to panic, the plastic containers that have #2, #4 and #5 printed at the bottom, are considered safe for food storage. While the one with #1, is a single-use container. In that case, it is meant to be used once and they should be either recycled or destroyed. The most dangerous is the one with #7, it contains a dense amount of BPA and one should avoid using such plastic containers for food storage.

How long can I keep reusing them?

There’s no good answer. Glad doesn’t put a time frame on its containers. It basically comes down to how your containers look and your own instincts. If they’re deteriorating in any way, badly stained, or you’ve had them a long time but have no clue just how long, it’s time to purge.

Pick plastic food containers wisely and limit their use to cold food storage. They can also be ideal for transporting food. Consider glass or stainless steel containers for cold or hot foods, instead. Since both can be cleaned and reused, they’re ideal for home food storage, too.



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