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Avoiding Toxic Food Storage

Plastic containers and cling wraps used for storing and heating food have come under the environmental spotlight because researchers have discovered that certain chemicals in those plastics — especially the ones that keep them flexible — can leach out of the plastic and into the food, particularly during the heating process. These chemicals include:

  • Phthalates give plastic wraps their flexibility and have been linked with reproductive, developmental, and endocrine health issues

  • Bisphenol A is found in microwavable dishes and plastic coatings for metal cans; potentially a hormone disrupter

  • Styrene, an ingredient in polystyrene cups and take-out containers, may be a human carcinogen

Some nonstick coatings on pots and pans (such as Teflon) have come under the same criticism, although scientists are divided on this issue: Some studies indicate reason for great concern, others sound a note of caution, while still others question whether the other studies, primarily conducted on animals, are applicable to humans.

The safest option is to be cautious about the use of plastics, and in particular to avoid heating food in any kind of plastic. Manufacturers either are moving away from using the chemicals (including phthalates) causing the main concern or are ensuring that their containers don’t leach any potentially harmful substances into food.

Consider limiting your use of plastics altogether, choosing waxed paper instead of plastic film when microwaving dishes, and choosing ceramic, glass, or metal dishes for cooking, reheating, and storing food. At a minimum, banish from your kitchen any older plastic containers, which are more likely to contain leachable chemicals and which tend to leach more as they age (perhaps retire them to the garage or sewing room for use as non-food storage containers).

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