When you put the leftover lasagna into the refrigerator last night, you
probably grabbed Tupperware from one of your cabinets. The soft drink
cup you got at the drive through is plastic. So is the water bottle on
your desk. Plastic is everywhere. But are you risking your health by using
these common containers? Plastic containers release small chemicals into
stored foods and liquids. Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical commonly used
to make clear, tough plastic bottles and food can liners, can leach, or
migrate, from baby bottles and waters bottles into the liquid and then
enter the bloodstream.
This chemical migration may be unavoidable. “Whenever you use any
kind of plastic food container, tiny amounts of plastic are transferred
into the food,” says
Lisa Gorman, RN
, director of Worksite Wellness, St. Joseph Health. “The amounts
are very small, but there is still a lot of debate in the scientific community
about whether these trace amounts are problematic.”
The federal Food and Drug Administration, which regulates plastic packaging
chemicals like BPA, recently announced that its safety review shows BPA
is safe at current levels in food. California, on the other hand, intends
to add BPA to the state list of harmful chemicals, based on findings that
BPA can cause reproductive health problems in laboratory animals.
“The controversy over BPA in plastic bottles is not over, and there
is no consensus as to whether it is safe or not as currently used,”
If you want to avoid exposure to plastic packaging chemicals, do some research.
Many containers have markings that tell you which chemicals it was made with.
“If you want to stay away from BPA, avoid containers with the number
7 or the letters PC on them. That means they were made with polycarbonate,”
Gorman says. “If a container has a number 3 or the letters PVC,
it contains polyvinyl chloride, part of a class of chemicals called phthalates.
Researchers believe phthalates may leach from plastic containers into
our food, like BPA does. Although there is no consensus on how or how
much leaching occurs, people who want to avoid phthalates should not store
food in a container with a ‘3’ or the letters ‘PVC’
on it. If it has a number 1, it’s a single use container. In that
case, use it once and then recycle it or throw it away.”
Wondering what you should do about food that such as roast chicken that
comes in its own carry-out container? Gorman suggests removing food from
takeout containers and storing it in your own BPA-free or polycarbonate-free
Regardless of the type of container they come in, don’t leave your
leftovers on the counter for too long. “Leaving food out at an unsafe
temperature is one of the main causes of foodborne illness,” Gorman
says. “Cooked food should never be left at room temperature for
more than an hour or two, because it will quickly grow bacteria.”
It’s best to wrap up food up airtight or seal it in an airtight container.
This helps keep bacteria out. Then put it in the refrigerator. You can
keep leftovers in the fridge for as long as three to four days.