In today’s world, plastic is omnipresent. It is easily available, cheap, lightweight, and let’s face it, convenient to use. 

It would be hard to enumerate the uses plastic has in your life, and especially in your kitchen. 

However, when it is a question of plastic coming in contact with food and drinks, things that you put into your body and things that impact your health directly, it is worth questioning whether plastic is safe for you. 

There has been a lot of speculation about the chemicals that go into making plastics, and whether they leach into the food and drinks the plastic is used to store. 

Let’s find answers to some questions about the different types of plastic used for storage and its effect on the food and drinks that come in contact with it. 

1. What is Bisphenol A?

Bisphenol A, often known as BPA, is a chemical found in hard plastics and the coatings of food and beverage cans. 

BPA is used to make many products, including water bottles, baby bottles, medical devices, and contact lenses. 

Some research shows that BPA can leach out from the plastic or coating into the food or beverage inside, especially when the plastic is heated. Studies have linked exposure to very low doses of bisphenol A to disruption of hormone levels, cancer, heart problems, and brain and behavioural problems in children.

2. What is Polyethylene Terephthalate? 

Polyethylene terephthalate or PET is a plastic resin used in making bottles or containers for beverages and food items, such as single-use packaged water, soft drinks, ketchup, and vegetable oils. 

PET does not contain BPA and is generally considered safe. However, some studies state that it can leach a toxic metal into food and beverages, and can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, and stomach ulcers. 

As with any material used to package food and beverages, consumers should be aware of any limitations on the use of PET packaging indicated by the manufacturer. These limitations are usually indicated on the label of the product.

3. What is Polyvinyl Chloride? 

Polyvinyl chloride or PVC is the third most largely produced plastic, but the least recycled of all common plastics. 

It is used in making bottles, medications, food packaging, and plastic wrap. PVC contains chemicals called phthalates and may leach into food from lids, gloves used in food prep, and food packaging. 

Phthalates can be harmful to the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive system.

4. What is Polyethylene?

Polyethylene or PE is the most common plastic in the world. It is a polymer resin and can be classified into low-density polyethylene (LDPE) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE).

PE used in food packaging such as juice jugs, butter and vinegar bottles, chocolate syrup containers, coffee can lids, bread bags, milk cartons, beverage cups, and fruit and vegetable bags seen in grocery stores. 

LDPE and HDPE do not contain BPA and are generally considered safe. However, some reports suggest that a long exposure of HDPE to sunlight can make it harmful to health. 

5. What is Polypropylene?

Polypropylene is a plastic polymer used to make containers for yoghurt, food delivery containers, potato chip bags, diapers, and medicine. 

It has a high heat tolerance and is thus considered suitable for making food packaging products that are used in the microwave.

It is generally considered safe for storing food and drinks, as it does not leach many of the chemicals that other plastics do.

6. What is Polystyrene?

Also known as styrofoam, polystyrene or PS, polystyrene is a plastic polymer used to make cups, plates, food delivery containers, egg cartons, and packing material. 

Hot foods and liquids may start a partial breakdown of the polystyrene container, causing some toxins to be absorbed into the bloodstream and tissues. 

Microwaving foods in polystyrene containers is also not advisable. 

7. What Tips Can Help in Reducing The Effect of Plastic Packaging on Health?

Though it is difficult to completely remove plastic from your home and kitchen, there are alternatives available in various situations. 

Here are some ways in which you can reduce the use of plastic for storing food and beverages. 

  • Buy food items packaged in glass or metal containers when possible.

  • Avoid heating food in plastic containers in the microwave. Instead, take out the food in a glass plate or bowl and heat it. 

  • Check if a plastic container is microwave-safe if you wish to heat food in the container. 

  • Do not store fatty foods in plastic containers or plastic wrap as many chemicals used in plastic are fat-soluble and more likely to leach into fatty food.

  • Limit eating or drinking canned foods and drinks unless the packaging is specified as BPA-free.

  • Remove food and liquids from their plastic containers as soon as possible and store them in steel or glass containers. 

  • Use only freezer-safe plastics in the freezer. Freezer temperatures can cause plastics to deteriorate, which may increase the leaching of chemicals into the food when you take containers out of the freezer to thaw or reheat the food.

  • Do not wash plastic kitchenware in the dishwasher. Repeated wear and tear of plastic, especially cleaning plastic utensils in the hot water of a dishwasher, could cause chemicals to leach out of the plastic when heated. 

  • Avoid buying produce covered in plastic packages and try to buy fruits and vegetables without packaging.

  • Carry your bottle with water from home and refill from clean sources of water to avoid buying single-use plastic water bottles. 

  • Bring your ceramic or glass cup to fill up with your beverage of choice in office settings or when buying a beverage from outside, to avoid using disposable, plastic-lined coffee cups and glasses. 

  • Choose the BPA-free options when buying plastic products is unavoidable. 

  • Discard plastic storage containers when they are old and discoloured or start peeling off, as it could indicate that the plastic is unsafe and possibly leaching chemicals. 

  • Opt for environment- and health-friendly storage options such as glass jugs, copper water bottles, glass canning jars and storage containers, silicone containers, stainless steel storage options, and cloth produce bags. 

Remember that there is only one earth, and you have only one body. Go for what is right for the environment and your health. Choose quality over inexpensiveness and choose your health over convenience. 

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.