BPA-FREE = safe? …Maybe not

If you are over 40 you are probably amazed that you actually lived past childhood. Drinking water from a garden hose on a hot summer day, eating canned veggies, being fed pre-mixed formula from a can and actually drinking it from a plastic bottle or even worse (gasp) one of those bottles with the plastic bag liners. We have all heard about how harmful BPA (Bisphenol A) is but what about other plastics. Apparently, everything from plastic wrap to BPA-free baby bottles can leach other chemicals that act like the hormone estrogen.

The following article explains this in greater detail much better than I can so I thought it was important to share the link in this blog post. The following three topics are covered in this article:

  • Just because a plastic product is labeled BPA-free doesn’t mean its safe to put food or beverages in.
  • It’s possible to make plastics that don’t contain hormone-disrupting chemicals, but it’s impossible for consumers to tell which ones are which.
  • People can protect themselves by not heating plastic containers that they’re planning to eat or drink out of.

Even BPA-Free Plastic Not Always Safe

Here is a guide to those numbers you’ll find on the bottom of plastic containers.

Plastic #1: This is polyethylene terephtalate, also known as PETE or PET. Most disposable soda and water bottles are made of #1 plastic, and it’s usually clear. This plastic is considered generally safe. However, it is known to have a porous surface that allows bacteria and flavor to accumulate, so it is best not to keep reusing these bottles as makeshift containers. This plastic is picked up by most curbside recycling programs.

Plastic #2: This is high density polyethylene, or HDPE. Most milk jugs, detergent bottles, juice bottles, butter tubs, and toiletries bottles are made of this. It is usually opaque. This plastic is considered safe and has low risk of leaching. It is also picked up by most recycling programs.

Plastic #3: This is polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. It is used to make food wrap, bottles for cooking oil, and plumbing pipes. PVC is a tough plastic but it is not considered safe to cook food near it. There are phthalates in this material–softening chemicals that interfere with hormonal development. You should minimize use of #3 plastic around food as much as possible. Never cook using food wrap, especially in a microwave oven. If the wrap is listed as microwave-safe then I would still not let it touch the food while using it in the microwave. #3 plastic is rarely accepted by recycling programs.

Plastic #4: This is low density polyethylene (LDPE). It is used to make grocery bags, some food wraps, squeezable bottles, and bread bags. This plastic is considered safe, but is unfortunately not often accepted by curbside recycling programs.

Plastic #5: This is polypropylene. Yogurt cups and similar wide-necked containers are often made from it, as well as water bottles with a cloudy finish. You’ll also find it in medicine bottles, ketchup and syrup bottles, and straws. This plastic is also considered safe, and is increasingly being accepted by curbside recycling programs.

Plastic #6: This is polystyrene, or Styrofoam, from which disposable containers and packaging are made. You’ll also find it in disposable plates and cups. Evidence is increasingly suggesting that this type of plastic leaches potentially toxic chemicals, especially when heated. I suggest avoiding the use of #6 plastic as much as possible. It is difficult to recycle and most recycling programs won’t accept it.

Plastic #7: This number basically means “everything else.” It’s a mixed bag, composed of plastics, which were invented after 1987. Polycarbonate falls into this category, including the dreaded BPA. So do modern plastics used in anything from iPods to computer cases. It also includes some baby bottles and food storage containers, which resist staining.

This blog post was meant to be informative not terrifying. It’s very easy to get completely neurotic and start throwing everything out in your house. It’s also very easy to lay a guilt trip on yourself. Don’t do it. Now that you have this information you cannot fix the past but you can make a change going forward. One step at a time, one purchase at a time. Switching to all glass or stainless steel food and drink storage is not cheap. Don’t panic; just do what you can, when you can. If you can afford to replace everything in one shot, great. If you can’t afford to do that then don’t go out and blow your family’s budget replacing every food container and water bottle. Be patient and replace one or two things at a time. Check out Costco or another local warehouse wholesaler near you. They usually sell sets of glass storage containers, which are very reasonably priced. They also carry stainless steel travel drink containers in family packs.

Remember, don’t panic and no guilt trips. All you can do is try your best going forward.

Some other great articles about Plastic and our food:

Is putting a plastic container in the microwave really that bad?

Mixing plastic and food: An Urban Legend?