Plastic packed food is unappealing in many ways. For me the most immediate problem is the flavor, or lack of it rather. I find it hard to tell which is the plastic and which is the food. Then there is the trash created. Every prepackaged meal results in hundreds of non-biodegradable wrappers that have to be specially disposed off by the state. And that doesn’t come cheap. But we are told it is worth it because it is cleaner and more hygienic to sell food this way. Safer.
But is it really? Many of the chemicals used in plastic production are toxic, carcinogenic or endocrine disruptors. There is no doubt that they leach out of the plastic into the product, equally true is that many of these chemicals are toxic. The question now is do we need to be concerned. (If the question is “whats a chemical?” you might like to read this, and possibly this on endocrine disruptors)
Do all plastics leach chemicals?
E-How states that all “plastic bottles leach chemicals in some degree.” BPA has been shown to leach out of plastic liners and products. Clingfilm leaches pthalates.
As I understand it ,the more fluid the contents the more likely the leaching. Dry products loose in a plastic bag may not absorb chemicals from the plastic, water in a bottle and contents of a plastic lined will. Moist, high fat products like cheese readily absorb chemicals. For example Cheesemongers advise against storing cheese in direct contact with plastic. ” being mostly oil and fat, is able to absorb flavors and chemicals from the plastic, which you definitely don’t want.”
Is this a health risk?
It is a matter of determining if the chemicals are inherently harmful, and if the levels reach a point that is cause for concern. As toxologolists love to say – its not the poison its the dose. For sure many of the chemicals used in plastic are toxic but it is claimed that the amounts are so small as to be irrelevant. However no one knows what the long term implications may be. Or how those chemicals interact with each other.
The Guardian reported in 2014 that scientists were concerned about the effect synthetic chemicals used in the processing, packaging and storing of the food might have on our long-term health. They quoted the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, part of the British Medical Journal group.
“The scientists claim that tiny amounts of synthetic chemicals leach into food. While these minute quantities in themselves do no harm, no one knows how safe we are from a lifetime’s exposure to the chemicals, such as formaldehyde, through eating food previously wrapped or stored in plastics.Altogether, more than 400 chemicals are involved.Whereas the science for some of these substances is being debated and policy-makers struggle to satisfy the needs of stakeholders, consumers remain exposed to these chemicals daily, mostly unknowingly,” they write.
The Global Mail talking of the same study notes that “of the 6,500 chemicals found in food manufacturing materials, the vast majority have “flown under the radar,”
Only about 25 per cent of these chemicals have been tested for their toxicity, Muncke said. Meanwhile, tiny amounts of potential carcinogens and hormone disruptors are seeping into our breakfast cereals, canned soups, crackers, frozen vegetables and packaged meats.”
Or this from the Science Daily in 2011
“In her research, Lithner studied the toxicity of 83 randomly selected plastic products and synthetic textiles. The newly purchased products were leached in pure (deionised) water for 1-3 days. The acute toxicity of the water was then tested using water fleas (Daphnia magna).
“A third of all the 83 plastic products and synthetic chemicals that were tested released substances that were acutely toxic to the water fleas, despite the leaching being mild.”
And these are just some studies taken from a growing body of reports all confirming that plastics leach chemicals. Some claim tentative links to cancers, others say not yet most suggest this needs to monitored. You can find links to a range of studies here.
Real problem or alarmist chemophobic reporting? There are many toxic, chemical substances we are happy to guzzle voluntarily – alcohol for instance. But if a chemical doesn’t make you really good at karaoke, and can be easily avoided, there seems little point in ingesting it.
So I like to think I am cutting the potential risks. And the very real plastic trash.
To be on the safe and compostable side lets
Cut The Chemicals In Your Diet
Avoid Processed food and cook from fresh. There is lots of plastic-free food here
Don’t buy food packed in
- Tetrapaks and tins (plastic lined)
- Cardboard or paper packaging for greasy food (coated with chemicals)
Don’t use the plastic bags available when buying loose food but take your own plastic-free and reusable packaging.
Store food in glass, steel or ceramic containers.
Do not use cling film to cover or wrap food.
Do not heat or serve hot food or drinks in food in plastic containers.
Avoid plastic breadboards, plates and cups.
Avoid plastic cooking utensils
Step away from the non-stick pans
Get a milk man who delivers in glass bottles.