Posted by Norman Fong, May 1st, 2013
The Evolution of Plastic
Plastic first appeared in the early 1900′s and is now found in everything from medical devices to hair conditioners to food containers. The problem with plastic is that it contains two substances that are poisonous; phthalates and bisphenol A.
Phthalates help make plastic containers flexible but can leech out of plastic when heated. This chemical can cause birth defects and hormone imbalances. Unfortunately, most people have this in their blood stream.
BPA in Plastic
Bisphenol-a, or BPA is widely used in the making of the hard, clear, and nearly unbreakable plastic called polycarbonate. Studies and tests show that small amounts of BPA are leaching from polycarbonate containers into foods and liquids and possibly causing health problems.
Avoiding the chemical BPA is much harder than expected. Those with young children and infants need to be concerned even more so. The Toxin-Free Infants and Toddlers Act will go into effect on July 1, 2013 in California. Bisphenol A will be banned in baby bottles and sippy cups in California. In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration said it lacked enough scientific information to ban the chemical from food containers.
Some quick tips to minimize BPA exposure:
- Use BPA free water bottles and baby bottles
- Eat fresh food whenever possible. Select frozen food over canned food, this includes infant formula sold in cans.
- Eat at home as much as possible, to ensure compliance with your goals
- Store and cook food in glass containers
- Recycle any scratched plastic containers
- In general, Avoid food and plastics with the recycling code 3 or 7 on the bottom
- Avoid putting hot or boiling liquids in plastic containers
- Wash your hands after touching cash register receipts
Warnings on Products Containing BPA
Breast Cancer Fund recently conducted tests of canned foods aimed at young children. They found significant traces of BPA in several national brands including Campbell’s soup and Chef Boyardee pasta.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a January 2010 update on Bisphenol A that says it many not be safe for children and infants. In its report on BPA, the National Toxicology Program expressed concern over BPA’s effect on the brain, prostate, and behavior. Children, infants, and fetuses are especially at risk. It appears that young children have immature immune systems that may not detoxify BPA as well as adults. Health and Human Services has a BPA avoidance page.
If you are feeding an infant formula, make sure you are buying BPA-free product. Look carefully at the label and call the company to verify. Only use BPA free water bottles.
Environmental Working Group has a guide to avoiding BPA Exposure. The upshot is to eat more fresh food, use alternatives to canned items, and to use glass containers when heating food in microwaves.
A research article from the National Institute of Health’s Environmental Health Perspectives echoes the issues and studied 20 people before and after an attempt to reduce BPA exposure.
Some interesting tidbits on BPA:
The FDA has estimated that babies have 12.5 times more exposure to BPA than adults, while others say the number should be even higher. The main culprits are BPA leaching from metal cans of baby formula. Powered formula does not have this problem.
Most canned food sold in the US has a BPA epoxy can liner that can leach BPA into the food within the can. EWG recently tested 97 canned foods and found that more than 50% had detectable BPA. BPA is less likely to leach from plastic water bottles and plastic food containers.
Clear Plastic and BPA
Any product made of hard, clear plastic may be made from polycarbonate unless the manufacturer specifically states that it’s BPA-free. One way to check is to look for the recycling triangle stamp on or near the bottom on an item: polycarbonate plastics should have the numeral 7 in the triangle, sometimes with the letters PC for polycarbonate.
Unfortunately, 7 is a catchall “other” category for a variety of plastic items some of which do not contain BPA. If the plastic is soft and pliable, it is probably not made with BPA.
Microwaving with Plastic
The amount of poisonous chemicals coming from plastic and into food depends upon the type of container used, when it is heated, and the actual condition of the plastic container. Older containers especially ones that have cracks are more prone to give off toxins when used to heat food. If a container has any discoloration or cosmetic flaws, it should be recycled.
Avoid heating food rich in cream or butter. Fatty foods tend to absorb more of the poisonous chemicals when they are heated.
Plenty states that microwaving items causing BPA exposure situation is even worse. Some food containers such as those known as Rubbermaid Premiere have a #7 recycling code on the bottom, and are expected to have BPA. BPA was also found to leach from containers that had recycling codes 1, 2, and 5. Simply examining recycling codes on the bottom of containers does not work.
A Better Way to Heat Food
Use ceramic, stainless steel, or glass when heating food. Instead of using the microwave, heat your food on the stove or in a toaster oven. Food will taste much better and there will not be cold spots.
BPA cash and cash register receipts
Small amounts of BPA were found on one dollar bills. BPA residue is also found on cash register receipts printed on thermal paper. Wash your hands often! BPA is not chemically bound to thermal paper, so it can easily get on our skin.
BPA has been found in the bloodstream of pregnant US women.
Read more about BPA in Canned in Packaged Foods
More BPA – Bisphenol-A Controversy
Wall Street Journal reports that “New Research Raises Concerns About BPA Levels in Humans”. Industry disputes the claims. Who knows who is right? We are not waiting. It does not cost a lot to avoid some products with BPA.
The CamelBak BPA-Free Better Water Bottle is a low cost item that I switched to. No more buying bottled water and no BPA.
Major food manufacture’s and BPA
Campbell Soup – is phasing out BPA and expects to be BPA free by July 2013
HJ Heinz Company – has virtually no BPA in US products
ConAgra Foods – has switched some product lines to cans with out BPA liners.
TupperWare – has been eliminating BPA from its products for the last several years.
If I had an infant, I’d switch in a minute from to a BPA free product.
See our post on BPA Free Water Bottles