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Question about plastic food containers  RSS feed

 
Lila Stevens
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Ok, so this may be obvious, or based on incorrect information, and possibly in the wrong section as well.

My understanding is that plastic food containers leach harmful substances into our food, but leach a lot more when the plastic is heated, like if hot food is put into the container. Also that acidic food food like tomato or pineapple causes more leaching.

I try to avoid plastic food containers in general, but at the grocery store the other day, I started thinking about all the food items that come in plastic jars that I still do buy sometimes for convenience. Most brands of peanut butter, ketchup, shelf-stable juices, etc.

My question is, are all these items (juice, ketchup, etc) bottled into their plastic containers hot? I've been learning about canning lately, and it made me wonder. I know I should just avoid plastic containers in general, but I don't always and I am curious. If they are bottled hot, that makes me want to avoid them even more. Or, if I'm totally wrong about heat making the plastic more dangerous, I'd like to know that too  
 
James Freyr
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You are correct to be concerned with plastic food containers. So there are many different types of plastics, and pretty much all of them are made from petroleum, or have chemical modifiers added to them like phthalates or Bisphenol-A (BPA). BPA is not plastic itself, but is added to plastics to make them transparent and very tough. It's commonly found in #1 PETE plastics. BPA is an endocrine disruptor, and our bodies think it's estrogen, and this is just one example of chemicals added to plastics to improve them. Back to plastics in general, yes they do leach compounds into foodstuffs, some kinds of plastics more so than others, and yes, heat increases this rate of leaching. You're absolutely right to be concerned with items that have been heated in their plastic container as a way to increase shelf life and kill microbes that cause spoilage. I don't know if items like juice or ketchup go into their respective containers hot and then have those little white seals glued onto the opening. Drinking water in plastic bottles that are oh so popular are contaminated with chemicals from the very container they are in. Yes the label says pure, filtered, even reverse osmosis water went in, and that is true, but it is no longer pure healthy water. I gave up plastic food containers a few years ago and diligently try to avoid eating or drinking anything stored in plastics. I fill a reusable stainless steel water bottle with reverse osmosis water each morning to take with me for the day. I view my options on the grocery store shelves and whatever brand comes in glass goes into my cart. Some things like ketchup, my wife and I don't buy anymore, we make our own, and it's delicious. And some things may be unavoidable, like even metal cans of food have a plastic lining, but some brands now have BPA-free linings. It's practically impossible to be perfect with these sorts of things, but if you can reduce your exposure to plastics and plastic chemicals by 95% or greater, your body will thank you. And for everyone reading this, if you can make one choice, please stop microwaving food in plastics if you haven't already done so, put your food in ceramic or glass. Microwaving food in plastics is a fantastic way to slowly poison yourself.
 
Cody DeBaun
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Yup.

To expand on James' post:

Most food product containers are PET or PETE, Polyethylene terepthalate, also known as polyester. It's probably one of the safest plastics generally, but with a few possible exceptions all plastics degrade and all degradation results in the formation of different chemicals.

For PET the basic concerns are BPA, Acetaldehyde, Antinomy derivatives and pthalates. These things can form as a result of high temps, hydrolysis and bacterial/biological breakdown.

BPA is the well known, endocrine disrupting carcinogen we all love to hate. Here is a pretty thorough overview of the literature on BPA, including the interactions between government and the scientific community. In a nutshell, early studies showed that yes it is toxic, but has a short half life and the body can handle it. More recent studies showed lasting impact at dosages "orders of magnitude" below the current max safe dosage. Primarily it's an endocrine disruptor.

Pthalates are also something many people are familiar with; the body of research on these guys is pretty clear that it leaches easily, is an endocrine disruptor, does a number on the liver and especially affects pregnant mothers and children.

Acetaldehyde, produced mainly from heat exposure, is a methyl organic compound that is a known carcinogen. It's found in higher doses in your average cup of coffee or fruit juice than in plastic contaminated water, and actually forms naturally in your body as part of the liver's day to day activities, but consistent exposure of sufficient doses can be harmful long term.

Antinomy is an element (Sb) that is used in PET plastic manuafacture. In addition to being bound up in the plastic often a layer of it forms on the surface. In and of itself, Antinomy isn't toxic and your body does a pretty good job of handling it. At sufficient temps, however, it can form stibine (SbH3) an extremely toxic compound  with a lethal dose in mice of 50 ppm. At anything over 5ppm the CDC recommends a full breathing apparatus. The most definitive study to date found that Antinomy and its derivatives are found in all PET containers, just at a dose they find acceptable, but that over 60 degrees celsius (140 F), it exceeded their own standards for safety by a very large degree. That study can be found here, and is the reason I chew people out here in Texas when I find out they've had a case of water bottles in their trunk for two years "in case of emergency".

So yes, the containers are bad. It's really just a question of how bad, and what the alternatives are.

 
Angelika Maier
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I like using old glass jars. I am very upset with the supermarkets. Because the big chains can dictate how food is packaged, and it is not only about poisons it is about landfills and the water table too. Our local coop sells a lot in bulk and you bring your own container. There is no reason why supermarkets can't do that they have more money than a local coop.
 
Deb Rebel
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Angelika Maier wrote:I like using old glass jars. I am very upset with the supermarkets. Because the big chains can dictate how food is packaged, and it is not only about poisons it is about landfills and the water table too. Our local coop sells a lot in bulk and you bring your own container. There is no reason why supermarkets can't do that they have more money than a local coop.


A few stores do sell bulk and sell you (your choice of) container or you bring your own. Get your bags (I make produce bags out of old sheer curtains and yarn) and bottles and tins 'tared' or preweighed, and permanently marked. This speeds up your checkout considerably.

Unfortunately, a lot of people use, misuse, and eat/handle the bulk food in ways you don't want to know about... or think of the fly that got in the hopper and is still in there. Sigh. I prefer to order my foodstuffs from wholesaler in (expensive up front) bulk shipped to me because of that and it's a lot cheaper in the long run.

As for plastics, I do use some (5 gallon pails with gamma lids) for some of my dry bulk, which is all made of Pet-2. I would prefer glass and as I can afford, I am switching over. https://www.amazon.com/Kegco-Gallon-Carboy-Fermenter-Homebrew/dp/B01ANDX4WO/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1498741972&sr=8-4&keywords=glass+carboy+6+gallon ; have wide mouth lids (plastic but I am replacing them with wood turned and lined with cork) and strap assemblies to carry (water filled, a 7  gallon is in the range of 75# of weight, water and jar combined).  This reduces and removes the plastics from my consumables AND gets around the games people can and do play with bulk.
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