After dinner, there’s some leftover soup, and you reach for your stash of yogurt containers – but should you? Those lunch containers you bought years ago, are they BPA-free? Is it safe to reheat food in plastic containers?
The Internet is filled with conflicting information, but we’ve scoured medical journals, government resources, newspaper articles and the latest research to try put together the most accurate information we can find on plastics, BPA and your lunch options. If you have any other questions about plastic containers, BPA or anything about a litterless lunch – ask us and we’ll do our best to get the straight answer to you quickly.
How can I tell if a lunch box or other plastic containers contain BPA?
While more BPA-free products are now on the market, it can be tricky to figure out which ones are BPA-free. Some products have a prominent label advertising they are BPA-free, but many do not.
In general, plastics that are marked with recycle/resin codes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 are unlikely to contain BPA. However, remember that not all plastics are safe. Most experts agree that plastics with the codes 3 (Polyvinyl Chloride aka PVC or V) and 6 (Polystyrene or PS) should not be for kitchen use. Some, but not all, plastics that are marked with code 7, which means “other” and may or may not be made with BPA. It’s best to avoid these containers or contact the manufacturer if you are unsure.
Can I store or reheat food in a plastic container?
Many plastics are safe to use for storing food (codes 1, 2, 4 and 5), and whether you should reheat your food in plastic depends on the type of plastic, the condition of your container (whether it has any cracks or stains, etc.) the type of food, the temperature it reaches and the length of time the container is in the microwave. Start by ensuring your plastic container is labeled “microwave safe” or contains instructions for microwave use. It just might be easier to avoid the hassle of checking codes and the condition of your container by simply transferring any food onto a ceramic plate or into glass container.
Can I reuse my store-bought containers, like water bottles or yogurt containers?
Although the mantra of all eco-conscious people is to reuse, reduce and recycle, many store-bought containers were made to be single-use. Yogurt containers and margarine tubs are made from a safe plastic known as polyproplene (#5 recycle code) and these are fine to store cold foods, but as with other plastics, avoid placing hot food or liquids into them. So let your soup cool before pouring into a yogurt container! And, don’t use these containers in the microwave. One-time use containers, like margarine tubs, can warp or melt in the microwave – this may allow more of the substances in plastic to go into the food.
As well, when it comes to reusing plastic water bottles, they can be reused a few times before recycling, but as there are concerns about bacterial build-up they must be thoroughly washed between uses.
Can I use plastic wrap in the microwave?
When food is wrapped in PVC-based plastic wrap and microwaved, substances used in manufacturing the plastic (plasticizers) may leak into the food, particularly in fatty foods such as meats and cheeses. Look for plastic wrap that is marked “microwavable” and made from materials like polyvinylidene chloride (PVdC) and low-density polyethylene (LDPE).
In general, whatever you use, do not allow the wrap to come in contact with the food. You might want to consider alternatives like parchment paper, or, instead, simply transfer your food to a glass container or ceramic plate before popping in the microwave.
Are made-in-China products, like plastic food containers, safe?
It’s impossible to generalize products from China as good or bad, safe or unsafe. There’s no getting around the country’s reputation for labour violations as well as substandard, fake and unsafe products. However, there are many companies that are trying to change the status quo with sustainable business practices. Many western companies doing business with Chinese companies have stringent standards and testing.
Choosing to buy a product from China is a personal choice. If you are concerned about plastic products from China, exercise your right as a consumer and do not buy them.
Is it safe for my baby to have any plastic bottles or food containers?
When it comes to baby, plastic is so convenient – they are easy to clean, durable and lightweight. If you aren’t going to breastfeed your child, you can opt to use BPA-free bottles instead of bottles made from polycarbonate plastic. Steer clear of hard, clear plastic bottles with the recycling/resin code 7. These contain polycarbonate plastic and, thus, BPA. Instead, use the semi-cloudy, translucent plastic options, usually stamped with the recycling code 5.
Glass bottles are the safest from a chemical viewpoint, and now, many glass bottles come with a plastic bottle cover to prevent breakage.
There are even multi-use disposable sippy cups made from PlaStarch Material, which is a biodegradable material made from cornstarch, and is a renewable alternative to petrochemical-derived products.
For food containers, there are lots of great sustainable options, including bamboo, glass, stainless steel and plastic. If you do choose plastic, once again, look for the safer plastics.
Tips to Reduce BPA
Here are a few easy-to-implement suggestions for reducing your potential intake of BPA:
- Cut back on cans. Reduce your use of canned foods since most cans are lined with BPA-containing resin. Buy fresh or frozen vegetables over canned.
- Take a DIY approach: Consider canning tomatoes and vegetables using mason jars and home canning kits.
- Avoid heat. Over the course of a few days or weeks, BPA will leach out of plastic and into food. Heating plastic, whether it’s through contact with boiling water, in the microwave or even to exposure to the sun, speeds up the process.
- Use alternatives. Use glass, porcelain, ceramic or stainless steel containers for hot foods and liquids instead of plastic containers. (Of course, stainless steel should never be used in the microwave!)
- Know when to recycle it. If your plastic containers have scratches, cracks or stains, it’s best to get toss them in the recycling bin.
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