Are Plastics Leaching Harmful Chemicals into Your Familys Food? What Can You Do?

Image: Brett Weinstein

A lot of us with kids or planning to have kids have spent the past few years throwing out sippy cups and bottles, searching for food containers labeled “BPA-free,” and giving up bottled water to keep ourselves and our children safe from the risks posed by BPA. But a new study suggests that the plastics we’re using instead of BPA may pose the same risks. Here’s what you need to know about this study and a few simple ways to limit your family’s exposure.

Since 2008, there’s been a growing consensus that BPA, an organic compound found in certain plastics, is harmful to the health, especially for children, infants, and fetuses. BPA mimics estrogen in the body and has been linked to obesity, problems with brain development, problems with the development of the reproductive system, adult sexual dysfunction, thyroid problems, and certain kinds of cancer. Also, some other things, too. That’s a lot. While some countries like Canada have banned many uses of BPA, in the US, it’s still legal in most places, but many producers have stopped using it in things like baby bottles.

Because of concerns about BPA, manufacturers have started to replace it with other compounds, which many of us have flocked to with the understanding that “BPA-free” means “safe.” The new study casts doubt on that assumption. The researchers took common plastic consumer products–from baby bottles to deli wrappers, soaked them in saltwater or alcohol, and recorded what happened as the plastics broke down. What they found was that these plastics, too, released chemicals that mimic estrogen, meaning that concerns about BPA may hold for other plastics, too.

So what can you do to limit your family’s exposure to plastics in their food? Here are some steps we’ve taken in our house that may work for you, too. Do you have a change that’s worked for you? Leave it in the comments.

1. Switch to glass.
A number of companies make glass storage containers. We’ve replaced most of our plastic with these. We also use Ball jars for storage when possible (although you need to be careful about filling to the top because the lid liner has BPA-containing plastic on it). When our daughter was old enough to ditch the bottle, we skipped the sippy and went straight to glasses. We’ve found small tempered glass cups that don’t break easily and shatter into pieces that aren’t sharp.

2. Beware of canned foods
Cans of food are frequently lined with BPA. Acidic foods like tomatoes tend to break down the plastic more and so we try to avoid those types of foods in cans altogether. We’ve had good luck finding things like tomatoes in jars. For foods you can’t find in jars, look for frozen.

3. Buy in bulk
When you buy things in individual serving sizes, there is a greater plastic surface to food ratio. So if you need to buy something that comes in plastic, buy a larger container. For instance, we’ve stopped giving our daughter individual yogurt containers and instead put yogurt from a large container in her lunch. This also reduces trash and saves you money.

4. Ditch drinks in plastic bottles
Some things can be hard to find in non-plastic containers, but almost all of us have access to free or nearly free water all day. With a little planning to have a cup with you, there’s no reason to drink bottled water. And we all keep meaning to stop drinking soda, maybe considering what’s in that soda bottle will give an added incentive to switch to water.

5. Bring your own paper bags
At most grocery stores, you have the option of either buying produce wrapped in plastic or putting loose produce into plastic bags, but most veggies will keep just as well in paper bags. Bring your own from home and save yourself the trouble of having to throw out the plastic bag when you get home.

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