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Mixing Plastic and Food: An Urban Legend?

Word about the dangers of microwaving your food in plastic containers is everywhere, but it may be time for a reality check.
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Phthalates & Bisphenol A continued...

"We are concerned about susceptible populations when it comes to phthalates, such as children and babies," says Halden. "A recent study suggested that there are developmental effects from boys stemming from exposure to phthalates, but this is an area that is evolving; we don't have the body of knowledge for phthalates that we have for dioxins, so we are a little bit behind on understanding the risk they pose."

Bisphenol A (BPA) is another industrial chemical that is used in plastics. It too has been around for years. According to the American Plastics Council web site, "Bisphenol A is one of the most extensively tested materials in use today. The weight of scientific evidence clearly supports the safety of BPA and provides strong reassurance that there is no basis for human health concerns from exposure to BPA."

But like most things, there is no definitive answer.

In an animal study published in the journal Endocrinology in 2004, the conclusion was, "Although there is no evidence of adverse effects in humans who consume bisphenol A orally from plastic food packaging, this exposure and the extensive use of bisphenol A in consumer products warrants more investigation of this compound at low doses for the purposes of risk assessment."

What the FDA Says

With all of these strange words being thrown around, we need the Food and Drug Administration to play big brother to food packaging companies and keep a watchful eye on their practices, and their plastic. How do they weigh in on the subject?

"Generally speaking, any food that you buy in a plastic container with directions to put it in the microwave has been tested and approved for safe use," says George Pauli, associate director of Science and Policy at the FDA's Center for Food and Safety and Applied Nutrition.

Any food packaging company that wants to put their food in plastic must pass muster with the FDA first.

"What the industry does and runs by us for approval is simulated testing to determine what could come out of the container," says Pauli. "We assume there will always be something that will leach out of the container into the food, so we look at how much someone could consume over a lifetime and compare that with what we know about the toxicity of the substance."

Basically, the FDA determines how much of a certain substance can you consume during your lifetime with little to no risk. So whether it's phthalates or bisphenol A or another chemical, the FDA's job is to make sure that the amount you're ingesting is within safe limits.

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