Stay healthy – avoid plastic

Reviewing the predicted food trends for 2019, I found that many are focused on food waste and packaging, specifically plastics. With the horror stories of marine animals dying after ingesting large amounts of plastic, I decided to examine how much plastic my family is exposed to through our food and drink.

The results were a bit disturbing. Despite my best efforts to “BYO” grocery bags, I realized that pretty much everything I buy at the grocery store touches plastic. In fact, when I took a closer look, all our food, except what is eaten straight from the ground or tree, touches plastic somewhere along the route to our plate. Mostly it is in the form of plastic packaging. Even the organic vegetables I carefully select from the produce racks are toted home in a plastic bag.

That’s hardly the same as eating plastic, I can hear some folks say. You can wash off any plastic residue or just peel the fruit. And that is probably true, but I am trying to reconsider that carrying my sandwich in a plastic bag may not be as sanitary as I once thought. Perhaps a paper, or better yet, cloth napkin or clean handkerchief would be a better option – making the hobo stick the lunchbox for 2019.

The main problem with plastic containers is that they can leach compounds from the plastic into the food. Much attention has been paid to Bisphenol A (BPA), a compound use used in hard plastics that are made into beverage containers and plastic dinnerware, among other things. BPA epoxy resins are also used in the protective linings of food cans.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “General exposure to BPA at low levels comes from eating food or drinking water stored in containers that have BPA.”More importantly, the CDC is uncertain about the health effects of BPA exposure, as noted on their website, “Human health effects from BPA at low environmental exposures are unknown. BPA has been shown to affect the reproductive systems of laboratory animals. More research is needed to understand the human health effects of exposure to BPA.” And just in case you thought you were safe, in a recent test of more than 2,500 Americans six years old and older, “CDC scientists found BPA in the urine of nearly all of the people tested, which indicates widespread exposure to BPA in the U.S. population.”

Now that I have your attention, here are some New Year’s resolutions to consider that will reduce your family’s exposure to BPA and other plastic compounds when eating and drinking.

  • Don’t buy or use plastic water bottles. Those cases of plastic water not only expose your family to plastic compounds, but the bottles themselves are a huge solid-waste problem. Better to use a reusable water bottle, preferably glass or metal, and fill it with water from a local tap.
  • Don’t microwave food or drink in plastic containers. Remove food from plastic containers and reheat in glass or ceramic dishes. It might be time to toss that plastic coffee mug and go back to using the “World’s Best Dad” ceramic mug at the back of the cabinet.
  • Use alternatives to plastic containers to store food and drink. Some options include glass, stainless steel, wax paper, brown paper, cellulose, or cloth. I am planning to make lightweight mesh or cloth bags that can replace plastic vegetable and bread bags as gifts this Christmas.

Some medical researchers suggest steering clear of plastics with recycling numbers 3, 6, and 7 that contain “compounds of concern.” And since we can only recycle plastics with recycling numbers 1 and 2 locally, this practice would help with “end of life” issues for your plastic containers as well.

  • Consider purchasing from bulk food bins instead of buying pre-packaged grains, nuts, granola, coffee, and flours. Carrying the bulk foods home in your own non-plastic containers, further reduces your plastic exposure and waste.

This trend in plastic reduction may clash with another current food trend. Sous vide cooking is all the rage with kitchen gadget-users. It entails vacuum-sealing raw foods in plastic bags and heating the bag in a water bath held to a specific temperature. I have been assured that sous vide cooking works in glass containers as well.

Don’t forget the pets – replace plastic food and water bowls with ceramic or metal.

Bake your own bread.

My “go to” reusable plastic bags are the ones that hold my husband’s favorite bread. Since you can’t rinse off the bread crust to remove plastic residue, one option would be to line the plastic bag with paper, so the bread is not in contact with plastic. However, this protective sheath would be added long after the warm bread is inserted into the plastic bag at the bakery. An even better solution would be to fill your home with the smell of baking and enjoy bread fresh from the loaf pan.

Here’s to happy and healthy eating in 2019.

Carolyn Dunmire gardens, cooks, and writes in Cahone, Colo.

From Carolyn Dunmire.