Are Plastic Food Containers Really Safe?

by in Food News, Food Safety, February 19, 2009

The short answer: No, not all of them. Time to scour your cupboard and root out those old plastic containers, cups and sports bottles.

The Issue
Recent studies have suggested that a chemical called bisphenol-A (a.k.a. BPA) — which is found in plastic containers — is hazardous to your health. This chemical is in some plastic baby bottles and “sippy” cups, transparent water bottles, harder plastic containers and the lining of canned foods. Studies have linked BPA to brain damage, immune deficiencies, behavioral issues and metabolic abnormalities. Although the FDA still claims BPA is safe, do you really want to put your family or yourself at risk?

Determining If You Have BPA Containers
Polyethylene and polypropylene are alternative plastics that researchers have determined are safe. Glass and stainless steel are other safe alternative as well. If you are not sure which chemical is in your containers, check the recycling code. On containers made with polyethylene, you will see the number 2 in a small triangle on the bottom. You’ll see the number 5 on polypropylene containers. The number that you don’t want is 7, which tends to appear on BPA-containing plastics. It is a catch-all category for plastics, however. Generally, if the plastic is hard (like on clear sports bottles), you should err on the side of caution and assume it has BPA in it — unless the manufacturer or packaging specifically says it’s BPA-free.

Handling Your Plastics
The safest choice is avoiding plastic containers totally. If you’re unwilling to give up plastic food containers (we know how convenient and pervasive they are), avoid heating foods in them or freezing them — unless they say they’re freezer- or microwave-safe. Also hand wash these containers; don’t clean them in the dishwasher. Since acidic foods tend to leach out more chemicals, store your tomato sauces and lemonades in BPA-free containers. As for your canned foods, Eden Foods makes BPA-free cans. Or you can opt for frozen choices instead.

If you do find some offenders, you may not want to overload your trash with them (since most won’t be recyclable). Consider using them to organize and store non-food items. I have some of those old souvenir plastic cups; rather than drink from them, I stash pens and pencils in them on my desk.

Unsure if your plastics are safe? If you know the brand, call the manufacturer to ask them directly — you should be able to find a customer service number on the packaging or online.

Plastic Alternatives
Many people carry a reusable water bottle to the gym or keep one at the office. My two favorite eco-friendly and BPA-free containers are Sigg and Klean Kanteen. They are pricey, but with small 12-ounce containers, I feel safer sending my child to school with them.

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Comments (69)

  1. Teresa says:

    The government can’t do every thing. God gave us brains to use. We have to think for ourselves and investigate things. We shouldn’t just accept that things are good for us. I am in the process of getting rid of all my plastic now. I grew up with no plastic and because it was so easy I started using it without thought. No More!!

  2. Jean in Texas says:

    Please take a look at what you are buying and eating. My mother was from the Greatest generation where frugal living was the norm. She used butter, whole milk that that was delivered to the door and garden fresh vegetables. Take the time to cook with fresh food.

  3. Can the leaching out of BPA cause a person to break out
    with hives? I use a lot of plastic containers for storage
    of left overs and also to freeze leftovers in. I would like a reply, as I am suffering lately from hives every
    day. Thank you

  4. bethfrdh says:

    Yes, I think we all need to be leery of plastics given all the chemicals and petroleum used to manufacture them. Why is it so hard to believe that these plastic ingredients wouldn’t cause harm to living creatures ingesting them – whether a lab rat or a human? Cancer rates and endocrine disorders are soaring – how else can we explain this away? You didn’t find this nearly as rampant decades ago before we began using these products. In recent years I have had the opportunity to work with an establishment that does dental exams in school systems. While in the restroom of one of these schools, I was shocked to find a sign designating how the students should dispose of their feminine products – this school housed strictly 2nd graders! When I mentioned what I’d read to a co-worker, she adamently agreed that girls are menstuating at younger and younger ages, and that 2nd grade wasn’t unusual at all. Her belief is plastics and growth hormones in our meat/dairy products are causing it. Since then I have heard many people confirm that they are aware, usually from personal experience of this problem of early onset menstruation.

    While you are getting rid of your plastics, consider pitching the antibacterial hand soaps, lotions etc too – anything containing Tricosan – because it is also an endocrine interrupter and bioaccumulates in our bodies and in the foodchain(animals, nature and water). Children are not very good at completely rinsing soaps from their hands, and are left with the residue absorbing into their systems.

    I’m a dental hygienist and when I found out the popular brand-name toothpaste that I used and recommended to my patients contained triclosan, I immediately got rid of it and found a safer brand and formula. Good luck to you all, and don’t let the people sticking their heads in the sand discourage you from protecting yourselves and your families. I only wish I’d found info like this before my 3 little boys drank from those BPA sippies for so many years. I pray that they, and all of us, don’t end up with negative effects in the future due to our past choices and manufacturer irresponsibility.

  5. Christine says:

    You know how people say "there must be something in the water" Well there's definitely something in the plastics. This is most likely why we Americans are getting larger and larger. At least I suspect that there is a 'big time' correlation! Boy I agree with the last person who commented (the dental hygienist) that it is odd how our daughters are beggining to develop so young. Creepy really- – and hard for these kids to handle, I'm sure. I'm so frikking mad about these companies that just keep doing business as usual. i guess it's not profitable for them to change their ways!! I wish i was STINKING RICH and I could pay for myself and others that have used these WONDERFUL products over the years to have our blood , hormones , thyroid function, etc TESTED. And…. low and behold when we find that our health, fertility, and problems we have loosing weight are caused by these profitable companies wonderful products that they have sold to us…. We could start a nice big CLASS ACTION SUIT and finally put a stop to their greed and carelessness!! I wish also that the cosmetic companies would WISE UP and stop using that Alchohal Denat or SD Alcohol that disrupts our endocrine systems. There is just Too MUCH Cheep crap that goes into all our products. I'm tired of it. It's getting to be that I don't know what is OK to Buy and Use for myself and my family!! Ok I'm DONE.

  6. Ara says:

    I can say that most of our containers are not BPA free because when I usually stored food in it especially when its hot, I often had an extra taste in my packed lunch. It tastes like plastic. So, I've learned. I've discovered that stainless steel containers are much better as our container buddy.

  7. Jessica says:
    this website explains what the different numbers mean

  8. marjorie says:

    Are the plastic "hoods" for plates of microwaveable food safe? that is, they go over the plate for heating.


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