Although the apron-wearing, martini-bearing, housewife-in-heels with her rainbow of Tupperware may be a thing of the past, the quest for a well-organized kitchen persists. To see tidy stacks of food-filled plastic containers in the fridge and freezer is comforting in a primal kind of way. But then comes the procession of warnings about storing and cooking food in plastic, and leaching chemicals, and hormone disruption, and ACK! So here it is: The lowdown on plastic food containers.
Flip over your favorite plastic food storage container and check the recycling code number. If you spy a number 3 or 7, well, those containers should probably go to the craft room or garage to store buttons or screws rather than food. If there is no number listed, contact the manufacturer. (And to be fair to Tupperware, they do manufacture products that are not made of these plastic types.)
Number 3 is polyvinyl chloride (PVC), also known as vinyl. PVC has garnered the moniker “the toxic plastic” for the presence of DEHA–one of several plasticizers (softeners) used in its production. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, long-term DEHA exposure has the potential to cause: Reduced body weight and bone mass; damage to liver and testes; and cancer. The manufacture and incineration of PVC also releases carcinogenic dioxins into the environment and food chain. Although PVC is not the most common plastic used for food storage containers, some are made from it and it is often used in plastic wrap to improve performance.
Recycling code number 7 includes several plastic types (it’s the catchall “other” category–see tips below) but it is predominantly polycarbonate. The problem with polycarbonate is that it harbors bisphenol A (BPA). Studies have shown that BPA damages the reproductive systems of lab animals by interfering with the effects of reproductive hormones and has other serious health effects. BPA’s capacity to cause these stems from its ability to mimic the human hormone estrogen–it has been linked to prostate and mammary gland cancers, early onset of puberty and reproductive-organ defects.
Next: 12 tips for safer plastic use