Storing Food and Packaging
Most fresh foods should be stored in a cool place or refrigerated to prevent them from spoiling or becoming rancid. This is especially true of nuts, grains and seeds, which should always be refrigerated, or even frozen. Fresh fruit is best ripened at room temperature and then eaten right away or refrigerated.
Plastic storage containers, while practical and resistant to breakage, may contain chemicals that can leach into food or liquids. Recent studies of the chemicals found in plastics bearing the recycling codes #1, #3, #6 and #7 suggest that ingesting even trace amounts of these substances may be harmful. Glass, stainless steel or CorningWare containers for food storage are good substitutes and are widely available in convenient sizes. Or you can avoid clutter by simply using a ceramic or glass bowl covered with a plate.
When you absolutely need to use plastic, the safest choices for food and drinks are those bearing the recycling codes #2, #4 and #5. Hot or warm foods should not be stored in plastic until they have cooled. And finally, if you can’t identify the type of plastic used in plastic bags, you may want to try unbleached wax paper and bags, beeswax coated fabric, butcher or parchment paper or cellulose bags.
Food packaging that is coated with grease-resistant and water-resistant chemicals should also be avoided whenever possible. This type of packaging is most often used for pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags and fast food or restaurant take-out containers. The coating contains per-and-polyfluoroakyl substances (PFAS) that are highly persistent, accumulate in our bodies and have the potential to cause serious long-term health problems. Food manufacturers and food establishments have many more safe packaging choices today than ever before. Ask for uncoated paper containers or provide your own.
Canned foods are also problematic. Almost every can (steel and aluminum) manufactured for the food industry is lined or sprayed with a plastic resin that contains the chemical bisphenol A (BPA).* While the amount of this endocrine-disrupting chemical that leaches into the food may be low, we now know that even small exposures may be harmful, especially to pregnant women and young children. Many foods that traditionally come in cans, such as tomatoes and beans, are now available in glass jars. Cooking beans from scratch is economical and you can freeze them in your own safe packaging or containers.
If your child brings lunch to school, be aware that lead has been found in several brands of soft plastic polyvinyl chloride (PVC) insulated lunch bags. Metal lunchboxes, washable cloth lunch bags and old-fashioned kraft paper bags are good alternatives. For packing lunches, it has never been easier to avoid plastic. Kid-size stainless steel lunch kits, with dividers to keep food separated, are fun to eat from, easy to clean and can be used for many years. You can also find insulated stainless containers for hot and cold foods.
School mornings are busy times, and warming leftovers from dinner with the addition of an apple or banana makes a great lunch without the plastic waste or any risk of exposure to plasticizing chemicals.
If your child drinks out of a plastic water bottle, sippy cup or sports bottle every day, be aware that scratched plastic surfaces will leach chemicals more readily and may also harbor bacteria. Unbreakable, lightweight reusable stainless steel bottles and sippy cups are safer substitutes and they come in many sizes and colors with a choice of different tops for convenience. Glass bottles with protective silicone sleeves are also good choices.
Choose baby bottles carefully to be certain of the purity of your baby’s formula or expressed breast milk. Many infant formula bottles are plastic or use plastic bags, and it is impossible to know exactly what plasticizing chemicals may have been used in
their manufacture. Glass bottles with silicone nipples are your best choice and warming glass bottles is worry-free.
* BPA is an endocrine-disrupting chemical that has been studied extensively because it was developed as a drug for women needing estrogen therapy and because it is very commonly found in food packaging, cash register receipts and polycarbonate plastics. Because of increased public concern about this endocrine disrupting chemical, some manufacturers are now producing polycarbonate bottles and other products using a BPA substitute and labeling their products “BPA-free.” But be aware that many of the replacements are relatives of BPA (like BPS, BPF, BPP and BPZ) and those chemicals have been shown to have similar or even more harmful health effects.
Children’s Environmental Health Network (CEHN) has a good FAQ sheet.
The National Toxicology Program of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a division of the NIH, has a good chemical fact sheet for Bisphenol A (BPA).
Grassroots Environmental Education is a good resource for information on BPA
Exposure to Perfluroalkyl Substances and Risk of Hepatocellular Carcinoma in a Multi Ethnic Cohort. Goodrich, J., Walker, D., et al, JHEP, August 2022, Volume 4, Issue 10
Data Integration, Analysis, and Interpretation of Eight Academic CLARITY-BPA Studies. Heindel, J., Belcher, S., et al Reproductive Toxicology, Dec 2020, Volume 98, p. 29-60