You’ve seen the headlines: “Chemical in Plastic Bottles Causing Alarm, Plastic Baby Bottles Pulled from Shelves.”
But what is this chemical and how exactly does it affect you? In short, Bisphenol A (BPA) is used in many polycarbonate plastics (found in tableware and storage containers) and epoxy resins (lacquers that coat many food cans and bottle tops). The problem: BPA can migrate from containers to food, and studies in animals suggest that, at least for fetuses, infants, and children, exposure to BPA may be harmful. During the week of April 14, 2008, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration launched a task force to explore BPA but isn’t currently suggesting an all-out ban. (The American Chemistry Council defends the safety of products that contain BPA.) Here, the facts on plastics and canned goods―it’s up to you to decide whether to expose yourself to BPA.
What to know: Many are made of polycarbonate plastic because the material is shatterproof and strong. Largely due to consumer concern, chain stores Wal-Mart and Toys “R” Us have announced plans to phase out all baby bottles and baby-feeding products containing BPA.
What to look for: Glass bottles or product lines that are BPA-free. Be aware, though, that BPA-free claims can be misleading because labeling terminology is not regulated by the government. (For instance, a polycarbonate bottle lined with a nonpolycarbonate substance may purport to be BPA-free because the food will not come into contact with BPA.) To be sure that the product you plan to use or purchase is safe, call the company’s 800 number and inquire about the plastic. Or visit zrecs.com, which maintains an extensive database of products containing BPA, and will tell you whether the product is truly BPA-free.
What to know: Since polycarbonate plastic is extremely durable, it is often used in teething products to safeguard infants from choking on a disintegrating material. The NTP reports that BPA is more likely to leach from worn plastic items―like a trusted pacifier.
What to look for: Suckers made from BPA-free plastic, such as silicone, or nonplastic materials, like nontoxic soft wood. Follow the advice in Baby Bottles and Sippy Cups to find out if your chosen brand is made with BPA-free plastic.
Products to Try:
Waldorf Maple Teether Natural Teething Ring, $11 (shown), amazon.com
What to know: Sport bottles are primarily made of polycarbonate plastic. Top water-bottle manufacturer Nalgene has announced it will phase out its polycarbonate bottles over the next several months in favor of its bottle made with copolyester, which does not contain BPA.
What to look for: Lightweight stainless-steel bottles without an inner coating. Remember―the lining could contain BPA. Check the bottle label for its materials or call the company to inquire.
What to know: Bottles delivered by water-cooler companies are often made of polycarbonate plastic.
What to look for: Jugs made of polyethylene plastic, which does not contain BPA, or stainless steel. Call your water-cooler company to inquire about the bottle material. Or switch to an under-the-counter water-filtration system that attaches to your kitchen sink and uses aluminum cartridges instead of plastic.
What to know: It’s been reported that BPA and other chemicals leach into food at increased levels when plastic containers are heated. We’re talking about juice, milk, soft-drink, and water bottles, margarine tubs, microwavable kitchenware and meals, salad-dressing containers, and yogurt tubs, most of which you’re probably not microwaving anyway. If you’re concerned about BPA, it’s best not to put any type of plastic in the microwave, says Martin Bucknavage, an instructor in food safety at the department of food science at Penn State University. Also, he adds, “avoid adding hot food or liquid to containers that are not designed to hold hot items.”
What to look for: Glass or ceramic containers, recommends Nena Baker, an investigative journalist and the author of The Body Toxic (North Point Press, $24, due out in August 2008). If your microwavable meal is packaged in Styrofoam or plastic or has a plastic seal, remove the food from the container before heating. And before using plastic storage containers, call the company’s 800 number and ask whether the container is made from polycarbonate plastic.
Product to Try:
The Container Store Vintage Glass Food Storage Containers with Glass Lids, from $6 (shown), containerstore.com
7 of 9Courtesy of Recycline
Disposable Plates, Cutlery, Trays, and Cups
What to know: These items are often formed out of polycarbonate plastic.
What to look for: Polypropylene plastic dishware. Still, avoid washing these items in the dishwasher with harsh detergents.
Product to Try:
Preserve Disposable Plates And Cutlery, from $5.50 (shown), recycline.com
8 of 9Courtesy of the Container Store
What to know: Cling wraps are made of polyvinyl chloride, which may contain BPA. Though these wraps are generally advertised as microwave-safe, the Food and Drug Administration recommends keeping plastic wrap from directly touching food and placing plastic wrap loosely over food when microwaving so that steam can escape.
What to look for: Alternate ways to store leftovers. Try aluminum foil, suggests Barry Swanson, professor of food science at Washington State University in Pullman. “The transfer of contaminants from aluminum foil will be less hazardous than from plastic wraps,” he says. For reheating, use a glass container with a glass top.
Product to Try:
The Container Store Vintage Glass Food Storage Containers, from $6 (shown), containerstore.com
9 of 9Courtesy of Nestle
What to know: BPA is used to line most metal food and drink cans. A 2007 study by the Environmental Working Group found that over half of the 97 canned goods tested contained BPA. Chicken soup, ravioli, and infant formula included the highest levels of BPA, with one in three cans of infant formula exceeding the government’s recommended safe level of chemical exposure by 200 times.
What to look for: Powdered baby formula or cans free of BPA. Eden Foods is thought to be the only known brand of BPA-free canned goods that are manufactured in the United States, and the only canned product it produces is beans. The beans are packed in lead-free tin-covered steel cans coated with a baked-on oleoresinous C enamel lining (a mixture of a natural oil and resin extracted from plants such as pine and balsam fir) that does not contain BPA.