The second chemical of concern in regard to food storage and cooking with plastic is phthalates. According to the CDC, phthalates are a group of chemicals (including DEHP, DINP, DBP, DEP, and more) used to make plastics more flexible and harder to break. They are often called plasticizers. Phtalates are considered endocrine disrupters, and have been linked to a number of serious health problems in children and adults.
Unfortunately, phthalates are not listed on product labels and are virtually impossible to avoid. They are found in household items (vinyl flooring, shower curtains), personal care products (hair care, body wash, some cosmetics), fragrances and air fresheners, household cleaners, and last, but not least, food.
Even though they are not added directly to food, people may be exposed to phthalates in the kitchen by eating and drinking foods that have come in contact with containers or products containing phthalates. Robin Whyatt, professor of environmental health sciences at the Columbia University Medical Center and the lead author on several landmark phthalate studies, recommends that consumers remove foods from plastic packaging. Foods should be placed, instead, in glass containers.
“Phtalates continue to leech over time, so you do actually reduce exposure by changing the storage container, even if it’s been in plastic before you bought it,” she says. “All of the phtalates have probably not come out yet by the time you get it home. And if there’s still some in there, it’s probably still leeching out, so you can at least reduce your exposure to some extent.”
In addition to phthalate exposure in food purchased for home consumption, a new study found that people who consume fast food have increased exposure to phthalates. “Fast food may be an especially important source of phthalate exposure,” says Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program.
“In fast food, there is more handling and more packaging than food you might buy at the grocery store,” she adds. This is because the plastic gloves, which most employees are required to wear, contain phthalates that can be transferred to food.
Some tips to reduce your food consumption of phthalates (both home and away):
- Avoid putting your food in or on plastic.
- Eat more plant foods.
- If you must use plastic, keep it out of the microwave and dishwasher.
- Switch whenever possible to organic and grass-fed produce, meat, and dairy.
- Invest in a water filter.
- Avoid processed foods.
We may not know for decades if, or what, kind of effect plastic chemicals have on our bodies. In the meantime, it makes sense for us to limit our exposure to plastic whenever possible, especially when heating foods.
Written by: Donna Green, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Erie County, firstname.lastname@example.org
Reviewed by: Beth Stefura, Extension Educator, Family & Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Mahoning County, email@example.com