Avoid Plastic Food Containers for Better Health

CC BY 2.0. Quinn Dombrowski -- Not such a great idea, baby.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says the best way to minimize exposure to harmful food additives and packaging chemicals is to stay away from plastic.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is worried about the effect that food additives might be having on children's health. In a report published last month, the AAP explained that more than 10,000 chemicals are allowed for use in food and packaging materials, many of which were grandfathered in after 1958 without data to back up their safety.

From the report's intro: "An estimated 1,000 chemicals are used under a 'generally recognized as safe' designation process without U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval." Even more worrisome is the fact that the FDA does not have the authority to obtain data on or reassess the safety of chemicals already on the market. This is something the AAP would like to see changed, for obvious reasons.

The problem with these unregulated chemicals is that studies have revealed them to be contributors to disease and disability. Children are particularly susceptible to chemical effects because their organs are not yet fully developed and are vulnerable to disruption; because they have higher relative exposures (greater dietary intake per pound); and metabolic systems (used for detoxification) are under-developed.

Chemicals whose effects on children concern the AAP most of all include bisphenols (used to line cans to prevent corrosion), phthalates (used in adhesives and plasticizers), non-persistent pesticides, perfluoroalkyl chemicals (used in grease-proof papers), perchlorate (anti-static agent used in plastic packaging), artificial food colorings, nitrates and nitrites.

In the absence of regulation, the report urges people to take precautions in their own homes to minimize exposure to these chemicals. Interestingly, its advice focuses mainly on the avoidance of plastic -- something we talk about a lot on TreeHugger from an environmental perspective, but is important to consider from a health viewpoint, as well. The AAP recommends, among other things:

  • Avoiding microwaving food or beverages (including infant formula and pumped human milk) in plastic, if possible
  • Avoiding putting plastics in the dishwasher. (Heating plastic causes it to degrade and leach chemicals more rapidly.)
  • Using alternatives to plastic, such as glass or stainless steel, whenever possible
  • Avoiding plastics with recycling codes 3 (phthalates), 6 (styrene), and 7 (bisphenols)

This is an excellent reason to start taking your own reusable glass and metal containers to the grocery store or farmers' market, and to buy loose products whenever possible. It's a win-win situation, for your body and the environment.