Are all plastics safe for food storage or food prep? In short answer, NO… Plastics pervade every part of our normal way of living. According to WorldWatch.org, some 299 million tons of plastics were produced in 2013, representing a 4 percent increase over 2012. Worldwide plastic production has been growing as the durable, primarily petroleum-based material gradually replaces materials like glass and metal. Between 22 percent and 43 percent of the plastic used worldwide is disposed of in landfills, where recovery and recycling remain insufficient, this is a major environmental concern.
So the question remains, how much are we at risk for exposure to the chemicals found in plastics, and are all plastics the same? Another tough question, but in short, long term exposure is argumentative, and NO again… all plastics are not the same. There are several types of plastics, some being safer than others. Plastic products are commonly marked with a number enclosed by the recycling symbol, which is typically found on the bottom of the product. This symbol is used to identify the plastic and recycle-ability of the product. Safe choices would be to use product containers marked with #2, #4 and #5. Containers using #1 and #7 should be used with caution and by all means steer clear of using containers marked with #3 and #6.
I’ll review in short each type of plastic and their health concerns, but to find more information, please see the article posted by babygreenthumb.com.
is PET or PETE – Polyethylene Terephthalate, a plastic resin in the family of polyester. It’s commonly found in cosmetics, water, juice soft drinks, salad dressings, oil and peanut butter. Studies have found this chemical to leach from water bottles that have been temperature abused. Plastics from #1 are intended for one time use.
is HDPE – High Density Polyethylene made from petroleum. It is commonly found in the manufacturing of toys and the packaging of laundry detergent, milk jugs and folding chairs and tables. This plastic can withstand high temperatures and currently poses no health risk.
is PVC – Polyvinyl Chloride, a thermoplastic polymer commonly found in cling wrap, pool toys, shower curtains and waterbeds? The health concern is many of the chemicals made with PVC can be released in the air and cause respiratory distress.
is LDPE – Low Density Polyethylene, a thermoplastic made from petroleum. It is recognized by its opaque or translucent appearance and is commonly found as the outer and inner liner of juice and milk containers. Most plastic grocery bags are made with LDPE.
is PP – Polypropylene, is a thermoplastic polymer and from its tough composition has a high resistance to heat and acts as a barrier to moisture. Typically you can find PP in margarine and yogurt tubs, plastic cups, baby bottles, kitchen ware, microwavable containers and lids. ** Important to note: “Microwavable/Dishwasher” safe only means the plastic will not warp when heated. Glass containers are a better alternative, but there are no known health concerns with PP.
is PS – Polystyrene, is a petroleum based plastic. It is widely used in packaging materials and insulation and is commonly found in disposable knives and forks, CD/DVD cases, egg cartons, foam cups and to-go containers. Long term exposure has been linked to neurotoxicity affecting sleep, causing fatigue and nervousness. Styrene is classified by the EPA as a carcinogen that will affect the lymphatic system. To avoid using PS use stainless steel cutlery, plates or paper plates and store food in a glass container.
is an “Other” category that will have variants but may contain BPA – Bisphenol A. Polycarbonates are derived from BPA and can be found in products such as electrical wiring, baby bottles and 3-5 gallon reusable bottles. BPA has been found to be an endocrine disruptor, having effects on brain behavior, affecting the prostate gland in fetuses, infants and small children.
Ways to avoid the uncertainty of plastic containers is to choose the safest choice of sticking to plastics marked with #2, #4 and #5. If there are no markings, use unlined glass, stainless steel, or ceramic containers, instead. Regardless to the type of plastic used, avoid exposing plastics to high temperatures and use mild detergents when cleaning.
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