Have you ever stopped to consider what that plastic wrap around your food might be doing to your health? You may have heard some plastics contain cancer-causing chemicals, or that they can make you ill. So what is the truth?
According to CHOICE, the consumer rights advocacy group, there are safer alternatives to what our food is currently being wrapped in, and they want the industry to introduce these and phase out risky plastics.
In his research of plastics’ impact on male fertility, Richard Sharpe from the University of Edinburgh’s male reproductive health group, explained this:
“Most people probably don’t understand how we are exposed to chemicals from plastics. After all, we don’t eat the plastic wraps around food or chew electric wiring. Plasticisers are chemicals used to make plastic (which is naturally hard and brittle) bendy and resistant to breaking, so prolonging its useful life. As a guide, the more flexible the plastic, the more plasticiser it will contain. The most widely used plasticisers are called phthalates, which come in different forms with different uses.
Plasticisers leach out of the plastic over time and will contaminate any food, drink or other material with which they have contact. This was the primary reason why phthalate plasticisers were removed from use in water bottles many years ago and replaced by polyethylene terephthalate, which has different properties. Nevertheless our main route of exposure to the most commonly used phthalate is still via our food/diets, even if we do not fully understand how this contamination occurs”.
Polycarbonate, found in food storage containers and bottles, and PVC, used to make bottles, seals and wraps, are the two most worrying plastics out there.
CHOICE reports that the chemicals in these plastics contain endocrine disruptors, meaning they can mimic the body’s natural hormones and thereby cause a myriad of health problems.
While these compounds are undoubtedly hazardous at high levels of exposure, scientific opinion is divided over the risk from the much lower levels that we’re exposed to every day in our food. There is, however, growing scientific evidence that even at these lower levels of exposure, phthalates and BPA may be causing problems such as infertility, obesity, breast cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
So what can we do? As you’re shopping, try to avoid fruit and vegetables wrapped in cling wrap on a styrofoam base, cut down on canned foods, and stop reheating food in plastic containers made from the more dangerous plastics – glass is preferable.
You can often identify the type of plastic from its identification code – unfortunately, this code is voluntary and you won’t find it on all plastic packaging. Look for the codes 1 (PET), 2 (HDPE), 4 (LDPE), 5 (PP) and 6 (PS). Whenever possible avoid the codes 3 (PVC) or 7 (a catch-all category that includes polycarbonate).