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Pots, Pans, and Plastics: A Shopper's Guide to Food Safety

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Plastics and the BPA Story continued...

The FDA recently repeated its previous statements that current BPA exposures are safe. However, the National Institutes of Health's latest review voiced "some concern" about BPA's effects.

If you want to reduce your exposure to BPA, there are some steps you can take:

  • Eat less canned food, and more frozen or fresh food. In addition to avoiding BPA, you'll also get more nutrients and less sodium -- both steps toward a healthier diet.
  • Breastfeed your baby, or use powdered formula instead of cans.
  • Avoid bottles and plastic containers that are made from polycarbonate (usually marked with a  number 7 or the letters PC) and if you want to reduce exposure to phthalates, avoid polyvinyl chloride (marked with a number 3 or PVC).

Phthalates: Is Your Food Plasticized?

Phthalates are a group of chemical "plasticizers" that are used in a huge variety of consumer products, from PVC pipes to perfume. With billions of pounds produced annually, phthalates ("THAL-ates") are everywhere. They're even in the indoor dust we breathe. Random sampling by the CDC shows most people in the U.S. have detectable levels of phthalates in their bodies. Phthalates have been banned in the European Union since 2005. Nine other countries, including Japan, Mexico and Argentina, have also outlawed the chemicals.

Researchers believe most of the phthalates in our bodies come from food. But they don't know exactly how and in what amounts. According to studies cited by the Department of Health and Human Services, phthalates on crops might accumulate in the livestock we eat. Or, phthalates in plastic packaging could leach into the food inside.

Like BPA, phthalates disrupt hormones -- in this case, testosterone. "Phthalates are thought to block the action of testosterone in the body, with significant effects on the male reproductive tract and other organs" in high-dose animal studies, Vandenberg tells WebMD.

People are exposed to much lower levels, and government and industry have considered phthalates to be safe. A 2000 NIH panel concluded that food exposures of phthalates pose "minimal concern" for most people, including children and developing fetuses.

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