Is It Safe to Heat Food in Plastic?
If the Chemicals Are So Risky, Why... continued...
The NTP advice to consumers was hard to decode. "There was nothing in
our report that should cause alarm...but at the same time, people should make
their own decision about which precautions they want to take," says Michael
Shelby, Ph.D., director of the NTP's Center for the Evaluation of Risks to
Human Reproduction. "The science is just not definitive."
Which brings us back to my kitchen and yours. Since learning more about the
health effects of plastics, including how much we don't know, I've changed some
habits. Some of this is, admittedly, driven more by emotion than science. My
kids haven't reached puberty yet, and I don't want them to any earlier than
nature intended. I give them water in BPA-free bottles. When I buy cheese
wrapped in plastic, I cut off the edges and toss them before eating or giving
it to my children. I now store leftovers in ceramic or glass containers in the
fridge, and I don't put anything plastic in the microwave because there's still
a lot to learn about the interactions of heat and plastic — and it's easy to
find an alternative. I also now buy phthalate-free shampoo and face cream.
I'd be happy to stop doing all this, but until the government starts testing
household plastics in ways that will tell us what's safe and what's not, I will
go on being a little obsessed. There are many ways moms try to protect their
families. My list just got a little longer.
The American Chemistry Council says there are no phthalates in plastic food
containers or wraps. However, GHRI testing did find low levels in one wrap (and
BPA in it and in three other products). If you want clues to the components of
plastics, check the recycling codes on the bottoms of containers. Number 7 may
contain BPA and 3 may contain phthalates. Generally, plastics with the numbers
1, 2, and 4 are OK; many experts say that containers marked 5 are too, but one
of the BPA-containing items in our tests was labeled 5. Here are other steps
you can take to protect your family: Cool food or liquids before putting them
in a plastic container. (University of Cincinnati researchers found that baby
bottles leached BPA into boiling water up to 55 times faster than into
room-temperature water.) And avoid putting plastic items in the dishwasher; the
detergent and heat break down the plastic, which may cause BPA, if it's
present, to leach out.