Monday, March 12, 2012

Plastic and food - safe handling tips

There are many alternatives to plastic food storage containers.
The other day I went through the cupboards and got rid of almost every plastic food storage container we owned. Even though we’ve been transitioning to glass over the past couple of years somehow we kept accumulating plastic containers. And we were using them because they were there. I finally got fed up and tossed them in the recycling bag after reading another article about what plastic is doing to the environment and our health.

The article that sent me over the edge was from the 5 Gyres Institute, an organization that studies plastic pollution in the oceans. According to the Institute, discarded plastics that make their way into the oceans have been accumulating in “islands” of plastic that are hundreds of miles across. They’re like floating landfills. Aside from the obvious danger they pose to aquatic life, the Institute reminds us that plastics aren’t great for us either and contain all sorts of chemicals, some which are known human toxins and hundreds that haven’t been tested yet.
200 billion pounds of plastics are produced each year and according to Green Peace estimates, 10 per cent of it makes its way into the oceans. Only about 5% of plastics produced are recycled and about 50% ends up in landfills.
Ridding your life of plastic is a tall order. A lot of food is packaged in plastic, people still cart their groceries from the store in plastic, kid’s toys are made of plastic, household products are packaged in plastic. The stuff is everywhere. But even if you can’t banish it entirely you can reduce the amount of plastic in your life, and learn to use plastic safely.
Avoid soft vinyl products (like shower curtains and inflatable toys). They contain phthalates, a chemical softener that has been linked to lower brain function in children, among other things.
Only plastics labeled one, two and five (inside the recycling symbol) are considered food safe. Food should not be stored in unlabeled plastic containers or those stamped with the number seven (#7 plastic contains bisphenol A, a known hormone disruptor.) Not that the food-safe plastics are entirely off the hook. You still need to use them safely.
Never heat food in a plastic container or put warm or hot food in plastic. Heat intensifies the leaching of chemicals into food. By the way, “microwave safe” is an unregulated term and only implies that the plastic shouldn’t melt in the microwave. It doesn’t mean that the chemicals used to make the plastic won’t leach into your food when heated. Ditto for plastic wrap, and look for brands that are PVC-free, or avoid plastic wrap altogether.
Never put plastic in the dishwasher since heat causes the plastic to break down.
Most canned food tins are lined with number seven plastic so try to reduce the amount of canned food you eat.
And finally, swap your plastic electric kettle for a stainless steel kettle and enjoy a worry-free cup of tea.

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