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Is It Safe to Heat Food in Plastic?

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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.

Risky Numbers

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.

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