5 Ways to Avoid Toxins in Food Packaging

(First posted at MomsRising.org)

You’ve probably heard about BPA in the news a few years ago. The chemical BPA (or bisphenol A)  in baby bottles and water bottles was all over the press and led to the FDA banning the hormone disrupting chemical from baby bottles and sippy cups in 2012.  But did you know that BPA still lurks in many places in our food supply and packaging?

That’s the focus of last week’s #EcoTipTue on Twitter. We had Ana, a special guest from Healthy Child, Healthy World, who provided great resources for parents about raising healthy kids. We discussed toxins in food packaging–what they are, and how to avoid them.

To get you started, here are 5 ways AVOID toxins in food packaging.

1. Eat fresh or frozen.  

Most canned foods contain BPA.  BPA is used in the epoxy-resin lining of the can to prevent bacterial infections. Bisphenol A can leech out of cans and into the food, causing exposures. This is the same chemical that the FDA banned in baby bottles and cups. So why is it still allowed in our food supply?

BPA has been linked in laboratory studies to adverse health effects such as breast and prostate cancer, infertility, early puberty in girls, type-2 diabetes, obesity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Canned foods provide a significant exposure and effect lower income populations more acutely  making this an environmental (and food) justice issue as well.

Add to that– France just banned BPA in all food containers, starting in 2015.  We are making very slow but steady progress here in the United States, with Campbell’s announcing they will phase out using the chemical and surely others will follow suit. In the meantime, it makes sense to avoid canned goods and exposures to this chemical. 

2.  Make popcorn on the stove 

Back in 2007 there was a flurry of news about a chemical called diacetyl in microwave popcorn bags that gave off potentially harmful fumes.  In one case of a man who ate microwave popcorn twice a day developed difficulty breathing and a chronic cough, all of which improved once he stopped eating (and breathing the fumes from) microwave popcorn.

Factory workers in plants making microwave popcorn bags have developed a severe condition called popcorn lung, which can be fatal. Some popcorn makers, namely Weaver Popcorn Co., ConAgra Foods Inc., American Popcorn Company and General Mills Inc. have phased out the use of the chemical, which is great. But I worry about the replacement chemical, since our chemical policy is so flawed. Now, manufacturers can change the chemical slightly, and use it in the market right away– until that one too is proven unsafe. That is why we need chemical reform, to break this cycle!

So in the meantime, it makes sense to avoid eating microwave popcorn from bags.  It’s also better for the earth. You can use this glass microwave popcorn maker, or make it the old fashioned way like I do, on the stove in a pot with oil. 

3.  Buy less packaged foods

Plastic is everywhere in food packaging, and in food production. That is why it is important to eat as much fresh, local, and minimally packaged food as possible. Exposures to BPA and phthalates from food packaging are common– and hard to avoid in plastic packaged foods.

So try to visit your local farmer’s market or farm stand for minimally processed foods from farmers you trust.

4. Store food in glass or stainless steel

BPA and phthalate exposures can also come from plastic food storage containers. Many companies have phased out using BPA in plastic containers for food– but what about the replacement? There are concerns with using plastic to store food at all. 

5.  Buy in bulk, transfer to your own glass or stainless steel containers

Minimize exposures in your home by transferring food from plastic containers to stainless steel or glass. Also, buying in bulk and storing food in larger non-plastic bins will have the same effect.

What are your thoughts about avoiding toxins in food packaging? 

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