Most of us eat a little plastic every day, because certain types of plastics leach dangerous chemicals into the food they contain?especially when they're heated?and these are even made into baby bottles. But scientists are creating edible food wraps made out of fruits and vegetables, so it will soon be safe to not only eat the food, but also the container it comes in.
Melissa Knopper writes in emagazine.com that the more flexible the plastic, the more likely it is to contain plasticizers called phthalates, (which are what make it pliable), and some of these cause cancer. The most flexible of all is plastic wrap, which is commonly used to wrap leftovers. Clear rigid plastic made of polycarbonates may leak the hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol A into food, and this plastic is used to make baby bottles.
Suzanne Snedeker, of the Cornell University Breast Cancer and Environmental Risk Factors (BCERF) Program, says, "Some plasticizers can mimic the effects of certain hormones?they?re chemical messengers in the body." Bisphenol A mimics estrogen, which is known to increase the risk of breast cancer. Besides baby bottles, it's found in plastic cutlery, water bottles, and the coating inside of cans of fruits and vegetables. Bishphenol A has also been linked to prostate cancer, low sperm counts and female infertility.
Toxicologist Tom Natan thinks plastic containers should be labeled according to toxicity. "We should be attempting to minimize our exposure to these things," he says. "In order to do that, we have to know they are there."
So far, the FDA and the plastics industry have resisted this, because they say bisphenol A does not leach out of plastic containers at high-enough levels to cause a health threat. "We did a ton of testing and supplied our results to the FDA," says Jerome Heckman, of the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI). "They are satisfied it is not a problem." However, the FDA relies on data from the plastics industry to judge the safety of plastics, rather than doing its own independent testing.
About 50 research papers have shown harmful effects from bisphenol A, from an increased risk for diabetes to deformed genitals in males. Biologist Frederick vomSaal says, "It has been shown in birds, mammals, frogs, fish, flies and snails. The reproductive system of every type of animal is damaged by this chemical in incredibly similar ways."
The Clorox Company, which makes Glad cling wrap and plastic containers, says none of its products contain harmful phthalates. They use polyethylene, which is a safer type of plastic, instead. Jennifer Barnhart, of Clorox, says, "The bottom line is not all plastics are the same." Manufacturer S.C. Johnson & Sons says Saran Wrap contains chlorine and plasticizers, but not phthalates.
We should only buy plastic wrap that's labeled "microwave safe," and keep it a few inches above the food we're heating. It's better to use non-plastic coverings, like a plate, to prevent splattering in the microwave. Never microwave in margarine tubs and only use plastic containers labeled "microwave safe."
Gerber's plastic baby bottles are made of polycarbonate, but the company won't take them off the market or mention polycarbonate on the label until the FDA requires it.If your plastic baby bottles have been boiled many times, washed in the dishwasher more than 20 times, or are badly scratched, throw them out. Don't warm them in the microwave.
Ted Schettler, of the Science and Environmental Health Network, says, "Most people feel if a product is on the shelf it has been thoroughly tested?but that simply is not the case. Given that political reality, why not try to find safer alternatives?"
Gary Gately writes in HealthDayNews that scientists are trying to solve the problem by creating edible food wraps that are actually made out of vegetables and fruits. They could even be used as a flavoring?for instance, a food wrap made from tomatoes could melt in the microwave to form a sauce over the pasta you?re heating. This would help us get our necessary servings of fruit and vegetables every day and would also be a way to fool our kids into eating them.
Maybe we'd better protect ourselves with a little white gold.
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