New plastics usually are “BPA-free” and labeled accordingly, but what about all of those plastic food and drink containers you already have in your kitchen or that you come across at thrift stores and yard sales? How can you tell if they’re BPA-free?
BPA (bisphenol-a) is found in polycarbonate plastics, which are hard, clear (or clear-tinted), unbreakable plastics. They’ve been used since the 1960s to make products like water bottles, food-storage containers, drinking glasses, pitchers, baby bottles, and sippy cups.
BPA exposure possibly can have an effect on the brain, the prostate gland of fetuses, infants, and children, and it might increase blood pressure, according to the Mayo Clinic. The same article does state, however, that U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) testing shows BPA to be safe at the low levels sometimes found in foods.
Know Your Plastics
You can pretty much assume that any opaque plastics are BPA-free. So, if you can't see through it, that’s the first step in identifying BPA-free plastics in your home.
For any plastics that fit the description of being hard, clear (or clear-tinted) and unbreakable, flip them over and look for a recycling number. Polycarbonate plastics will have a number 7 on them, but they’re not the only plastic that gets labeled with a 7, so you’ll need to do a bit more investigating.
Look to see if the container is labeled as unbreakable or microwave-safe. If it is, that’s a good indicator that it contains BPA. Get rid of it.
If you see a label indicating that the container is handwash only, it’s probably made of acrylic and therefore OK to keep.
If the container doesn’t have a recycling number on it and you bought it before July of 2012, it’s best to assume that it contains BPA and to get rid of it.
Metal containers—especially aluminum water bottles—are sometimes lined in BPA to improve the taste of the water. If you feel any sort of plastic lining inside a container that isn't marked as BPA-free, it's best to throw it away. These types of linings are especially prone to scratching.
Polycarbonates get a lot of attention due to concerns over BPA, but it’s important to remember that it isn’t the only plastic that can leach chemicals into your food. While you’re going through your plastic containers, go ahead and toss any that are scratched or damaged. Worn containers pose a higher leaching risk.
Other Leaching Risks:
- Microwaving food in plastic containers.
- Storing acidic foods (like tomato sauce) in plastic. The acidity could draw chemicals into your food.
- Placing foods in containers while they're still hot.
- Scrubbing containers too vigorously or with scrubbers that can cause scratches.
- Routinely exposing your containers to high temperatures, including washing them in the dishwasher.
- Using containers over an extended period of time.
A good idea is to switch to using glass in your kitchen, so you won't have to worry about any of these concerns. Glass:
- is microwave-safe.
- is dishwasher-safe.
- won't stain.
- doesn't wear out.
- won't leach chemicals into your food if it becomes scratched or is exposed to high temperatures
“Bisphenol-A,” Haz Waste Help. http://www.hazwastehelp.org/chemtoxpesticides/bisphenola.aspx (11 August 2015).
“Indirect Food Additives: Polymers,” Docket No. FDA-2012-F-0031. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-07-17/html/2012-17366.htm (11 August 2015).
Parker-Pope, Tara. “A Hard Plastic is Raising Tough Questions,” The New York Times 22 April 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/22/health/22well.html (11 August 2015).