• Is Plastic Food Packaging Safe?


Is Plastic Food Packaging Safe?

Oct 19 2022

Over the last half a century, the way in which we prepare, package and handle our food has changed dramatically. The rapid explosion in popularity of plastic has meant that this “miracle material” has infiltrated all parts of the food chain, from production conveyor belt coatings to drinks containers to individual item packets.

Plastic packaging offers a host of benefits, from convenience and affordability to hygiene and longevity. However, concerns have surfaced recently over the safety of drinking water from plastic bottles due to the chemicals contained within. Do the same issues apply to plastic food packaging? We take a closer look at the subject below.

Chemical contaminants

The fears surrounding bottled water are concentrated on the chemicals which go into plastic production. In particular, substances such as bisphenol A, antimony and phthalates have been identified as endocrine disruptors and potential carcinogens. This means that studies have found they have contributed to decreased fertility, neonatal difficulties and neurodevelopmental problems in animals and humans, as well as potentially causing cancer.

What’s more, these are just two of the chemicals about which we have scientific information. Since there are literally thousands of compounds which go into the production of plastic – and little if nothing is known about the long-term health effects of other half of those – the impact of emerging contaminants to both human health and the environment is a serious issue.

Types of plastic

Therefore, it’s possible that plastic is not the safest medium in which to store our food, though further research is required to fully understand the risks. What we do know is that certain types of plastic pose greater dangers than others. That’s because some plastics contain higher levels of the aforementioned contaminants than others.

To check whether or not your plastic falls into a higher risk category, simply check the base of the container. It should depict a number surrounding by the universal recycling triangle, which indicates the materials from which it is made. If your packaging features a #2, a #4 or a #5, it should be safe to store food. If it displays any other number, you may want to discard it.

Staying safe

One rule of thumb which should apply to all plastic packaging, regardless of which type it constitutes, is exposure to heat. When the ambient temperature around plastic rises, the material becomes unstable and the chemicals contained within (and the plastic itself) are more readily able to leach into the food. As a result, you should avoid microwaving your plastic containers or cleaning them in a dishwasher.

Instead, decant your food onto a plate before heating it up and wash all packaging by hand. You should also try to avoid placing oily foods in plastic containers, because the chemicals contained within them are fat soluble and can more easily transfer to the food. Finally, the most sure-fire way to avoid contamination of your food is to opt for paper, glass or metal packaging instead.

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