Julie Whittington, RD

Healthy tips from a Registered Dietitian

Keep foods and drinks safe when using plastics

The safety of many types of plastics is in question a lot lately.  So, is this just another area on the list of products to avoid in our day to day lives?  Well, it may be.


Plastics play a huge role in our daily lives – especially when you think about food and drink packaging and storage.  We use plastic wraps, disposable plastic containers, condiment bottles, you name it.  Many of us microwave foods in plastic containers and drink beverages like water and soda from plastic bottles on a daily basis.  Pet food is often stored in plastic tubs and babies drink from plastic bottles.  Metal cans (i.e. for canned vegetables) are lined in plastic.  Plastics are everywhere. 


Of recent interest is the concern over plastic baby bottles.  In 1999, Consumer Reports issued concerns that a chemical, known as bisphenol A (BPA) could leach from baby bottles.  The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and plastics industry tried to calm consumers and said consumers need not worry and that there was no health risk from plastic baby bottles.


However, this year, a panel of experts from the NIH (National Institutes of Health) and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) published a statement in the journal, Reproductive Toxicology, that BPA is a chemical that raises “high concern” for children.  The chemical itself has been shown to increase the risk of cancer and reproductive damage in laboratory animals.  The FDA is currently re-investigating the issue.


This of course has sent many moms in a craze to find BPA-free baby bottles.  Now, many baby and parenting sources are recommending switching to BPA-free bottles, which can more easily be identified by their opaque color.  BPA bottles are clear.  According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), BPA was found in the bodies of 95% of Americans tested.  A recent news report stated that the highest concern for BPA exposure is to fetuses and newborns.


If you feel overwhelmed by the latest health concerns over plastics, you are not alone.  There are plenty of groups out there telling you to avoid certain products and only choose certain others.


To make it more simple, try to follow these tips about plastic safety:


  • Avoid using plastic wrap or plastic containers in the microwave, since they may release unsafe chemicals when heated
  • Only refill disposable water bottles a few times before recycling, to avoid breakdown products from leaching into your water
  • Avoid using #3, #6 and #7 baby bottles and sippy cups (look at the bottom of the bottle for the number designation)
  • Choose safer plastics for food storage (#1, #2, #4 and #5) or use glass, lead-free ceramic or stainless steel
  • Try not to put very hot products into plastic containers
  • Toss any worn or scratched plastic containers
  • Purchase toys from natural materials and pay attention to recall lists.  The recent scares about lead-tainted paint found on children’s toys has increased toy safety concerns
  • Use paper shopping bags, rather than plastic.  Better bet – bring your own canvas shopping bags to reduce waste!


We cannot avoid all the “potential” health concerns in our world.  However, we can educate ourselves, be wary of product recalls, choose natural and minimally processed foods and containers and have regular medical check ups.  As more and more is known about potential health hazards, more and more companies will offer alternative, safer products.  If you see a product for sale that is marketed as being a safe alternative, figure out whether it is all hype or worth the expense.  And, don’t forget – balance is key.  You cannot win every battle nor avoid every hazardous exposure.  All you can do is your best.  Reading this article and gaining more knowledge is a great place to start.


Julie Whittington is a Registered Dietitian in the Lake Norman area.  Reach her at juliewhittingtonrd@yahoo.com. 


One comment on “Keep foods and drinks safe when using plastics

  1. titan19
    August 5, 2008

    Great post! We need to educate ourselves and take action. We really can’t afford not to! Here’s more reading on bisphenol-a:



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