Are plastics safe for food storage and cooking?


After moving over to organic food last year to cut down the amount of chemicals I was putting in to my body I was unaware of the some of the other ways harmful chemicals can get in to our food. Plastics are widely used in packaging of food and drinks and we would naturally think that they are very safe, inert materials. All plastics are made up by a complex mixture of chemicals to give them certain properties; but some plastics are safer than others.

One type of plastic that has raised criticism over the years is polycarbonate which uses a chemical called Bisphenol-A (BPA) which the National Toxicology Program has said there is “Some concern for neural and behavioural effects” especially with in infants. Canada is very concerned and has banned BPA in the use of baby bottles while the USA maintains it is safe in the normal amounts consumed. Polyvinyl chloride or PVC is another unsafe plastic for food storage, it can leech dioxins which is known to increase risk of liver cancer. Polystyrene or Styrofoam as used for disposable food trays can also leech styrene into food which is toxic to the brain and nervous systems if exposed in large quantities.

Is all plastic unsafe? The answer is no, on the whole plastic is safe but to be sure of the type of plastic you are using you will need to look for the recycling logo often found on the bottom of the bottle or packaging, it looks like three arrows in a triangle with a number inside. Numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5 are all safe types of plastic packaging that you should have very little to worry about, my advice would be to avoid plastics with the other numbers.

plastic recycling codes 1, 2, 4 and 5

1 – Polyethylene Terepthalate (PET), 2 – High Density Polyethylene (HDPE), 4 – Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE), 5 – Polypropylene (PP)

How we use plastic can also affect how safe it is, microwaving food in plastic containers can accelerate the leeching of chemicals in to the food, it is much safe to microwave food in a ceramic or glass container such as Pyrex. Putting plastics in the dishwasher can also break down the chemicals caused by the heat cycles put in to the plastic. As for hand washing plastics, well this can cause small scratches in the surface that can harbour bacteria. My advice would to always try and use ceramic, glass or stainless steel for food storage and cooking.

Much of this information may be new to you as it was to me to before I did a little more research, I have now found myself looking at all plastic packaging to see what number it is, so remember 1,2, 4 and 5.

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