It’s very common in households to store hot food in plastic containers but that can come with some risks in the long term. Scientists have found that some of these plastic products leach toxic chemicals that remain in contact with food at very high or very low temperatures. Bisphenol A (BPA) is an ingredient found in many plastic containers.
This chemical disrupts brain and reproductive development in children and increases the risk for cancer, obesity, and other health problems. To address the concern over using BPA, many companies switched to using Bisphenol S (BPS) instead.
However, according to research, BPS is not any safer than BPA and can cause many health issues as well. Many chemicals are added to plastic production to provide certain desirable properties, but in the long run, these might harm the human physiological system.
The chemicals leaching out of these plastics can cause long-term effects on the human body. The plastics could release phthalates which contaminate the food and disturbs the hormonal system causing infertility problems in both men and women.
Plastics also contain chemicals, including bisphenols A, S, and F (BPA, BPS, and BPF), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) which are harmful to health. The prolonged intake of these chemicals may lead to cancers, weak immune systems, organ problems, and improper development in kids.
BPA is an endocrine-disrupting agent causing various health complications. High intake of BPA can disrupt the reproductive development and function in the human body. Oily foods were also found to have some attraction toward plastic chemicals and increase chemical contamination when remaining in contact for longer.
We consume around 74,000 particles of microplastic a year through our food and drinks contained in plastic containers. Microplastics account for 30% of the plastic intake from those foods, according to a study by the Journal of hazardous Medicines.
The tiny plastic particles from the containers flake off into the food, especially in takeaway containers. High heat breaks the chemical bonds in plastic, increasing microplastic contamination.
Researchers have found that food containers exposed to high temperatures have higher chances of microplastic release in the food.
Scientists have found that microplastics can mix in the bloodstream and cause carcinogenic disorders in some animals, including humans.
Single-use plastic food containers are discarded after use and pile up in landfills and water bodies as garbage. They are not biodegradable, but they degrade over time and UV exposure into microplastics, mixing with soil and water and again come back into the food chain, as shown in the latest research about microplastics found in food and drinks.
Land, rivers, and oceans are filled with plastic waste, not the visible trash we see but in the form of microfilaments that contaminate our food and water sources. We could be ingesting more than 200 particles a week just from our plastic food storage units.
Storing cooked and raw food in plastic containers inside the freezer has become very common nowadays, which solves the demand for stocking up on food. There have been mixed views on the effect of plastic use on food freezing or storage.
Some plastics are declared safe such as polypropylene, HDPE, and LDPE, which are generally preferred. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), Polystyrene (PS), or polycarbonate (PC) is considered unsafe for food packaging at lower temperatures.
However, plastic has some toxic effects on foods at extreme temperatures, even if labeled as safe, compared to other materials like glass or metal.
Many plastic containers are labeled safe for heating in the microwave, but researchers have found that plastic and heat are incompatible.
Heat stimulates the breaking of chemical bonds in plastic, and there may be more chances of chemical migration into the food when exposed to higher temperatures. Many people wash and reuse plastic food containers heated multiple times in the microwave, causing more breaking and contamination of chemicals that are otherwise found stable in normal temperatures.
According to studies, plastics containing BPA, when heated, release microplastics and leach related chemicals into the food stored in it making it toxic. Containers made of PET plastics can release chemicals at a temperature of 25°C and at temperatures of 50°C and above, the leaching of chemicals can occur very rapidly. Food high in fat content should never be heated in plastic as the fat better absorbs chemicals.
A new 2023 study published in the Journal of Environmental Science & Technology investigated the release of microplastics and nanoplastics from plastic containers and reusable food pouches under different usage scenarios. The results of this study indicated that microwave heating caused the highest release of microplastics and nanoplastics into food compared to other usage scenarios, such as refrigeration or room-temperature storage. It was found that some containers could release as many as 4.22 million microplastic and 2.11 billion nanoplastic particles from only one square centimeter of plastic area within 3 min of microwave heating. This is particularly concerning for heating baby food considering the size of babies and their development. According to the same study, refrigeration and room-temperature storage for over six months can also release millions to billions of microplastics and nanoplastics. Additionally, the polyethylene-based food pouch released more particles than polypropylene-based plastic containers.
Many of us prefer washing and reusing plastic containers. Still, the use of harsh cleansing agents and hot water can activate the chemicals in the plastic, change its surface properties, and sometimes likely retain food particles that are harmful to health in the long run.
Washing plastic containers with hot water or storing hot food in plastic containers is not a safe idea because heat causes the chemical release from plastic, which can make the food contained in plastic containers harmful to some extent.
Some poor-quality, lightweight plastic containers are made for one-time use but not for re-heating because these are especially vulnerable when exposed to heat.
Plastic has become a part of our daily lifestyle, but we never realize that we are accepting a key source of health problems in our daily lives. Using plastic containers for storing hot food may be convenient, but it may lead to health issues in the long run.
Many companies claim to provide safe plastic materials. Still, it is tough to guarantee the quality of plastic containers, so it is best to avoid plastic and opt for glass or food grade stainless steel containers as an alternative. To avoid contact between plastic chemicals and food, simply use glassor ceramic containers.
Switching to glass, ceramic and/or metal containers is always safe if you want to protect your body from chemical exposure. Plastic-free containers are safe for your health and the environment.
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