Science @ CHS: Plastics & Food

GRACE KNUTSEN

This article, the last of a three-part series centered on consumer product awareness, briefly explores the use of plastics in our daily lives, and discusses the risks of exposure to certain plastics, specifically those containing the chemical bisphenol-A. You may read our previous articles, titled “Parabens” and “Cruelty-Free Products”, in our March and April 2018 editions of The High-O-Scope.

Plastics play a vital part in day-to-day life, providing a modern day convenience for consumers. They allow for the easy transport of goods and permit foods to be stored for an indefinite period of time without risk of spoilage. Unfortunately, plastics, and specifically, the chemicals used to make plastics, have a darker side as a potential health hazard.

Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical and one of the fundamental building blocks in the manufacturing process of plastic food containers and packaging materials, as well as in the epoxy resin linings of metal food cans that help prevent rust and corrosion. The chemical has been around worldwide for more than 50 years, and in the United States alone, more than 2 billion pounds of the chemical are produced annually.

BPA finds its way into the body through leaching from food and beverage storage containers, acting as a weak endocrine disruptor by mimicking the hormone estrogen and interfering with hormone regulatory pathways in the body. As expected, BPA has been linked to reproductive dysfunctions, but has also been attributed to breast and prostate cancers, cardiovascular disease, obesity, as well as neurological and behavioral disorders.

Scientific findings regarding possible health risks of BPA use were first reported in the 1980’s, and evidence has continued to mount over the past 30+ years, yet the FDA has not pushed for any kind of regularly framework to reduce or otherwise limit consumer exposure of BPA. Meanwhile, other countries around the world have taken BPA risk more seriously. In Canada, BPA has been declared a toxic chemical, and in Japan, there’s been a voluntary industry-wide replacement of BPA epoxy linings in soda and tin cans. Countries in the European Union have banned BPA from food contact materials used by children and infants.

While it’s nearly impossible not to be exposed to plastics over the course of a day, there are several ways to reduce BPA exposure. First, avoid canned foods and eat fresh foods, whenever possible. Further, avoid food stored in plastics, but if buying food stored in plastic, don’t reuse the plastic container, and if re-using a plastic container, avoid heating the container. BPA levels are detectably increased after plastic containers are cleaned with scrub brushes or heated. Finally, drink water and beverages from glass, or use a Hydro Flask, as compared to drinking beverages from plastic bottles.

Ultimately, despite the FDA’s current position that BPA is not a health risk when exposed to low dosages, countless scientific studies over the past 30+ years consistently support evidence that exposure to BPA from the food supply increases certain health risks. By becoming a thoughtful, responsible consumer, one can actively reduce exposure to BPA, and in turn, lower future health risks now and for the future.

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