A Safer Kitchen's In the Bag | Seventh Generation
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A Safer Kitchen's In the Bag

Author: the Inkslinger

We can imagine our kitchens without a lot of things, but plastic isn't one of them. In the half century since it created a food storage revolution, this material has come to play an indispensible role in nearly every meal.

In recent years, however, plastic's image as a shining symbol of technological progress has been tarnished by reports suggesting that it may be less than safe, especially in the kitchen. At issue are the chemicals plastics are made from and whether or not these building blocks are able to leach into our food. The answer to that question starts with understanding the different kinds of plastic available today. Here's a list by recycling code number:

  • #1 PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate ethylene) is a common plastic used to package a variety of foods and drinks. PETE is considered a safe, non-leaching plastic, even though some studies have found that it can release the toxic metallic mineral antimony over time, especially when subjected to heat.
  • #2 HDPE (high density polyethylene) is another common plastic used for milk and water jugs, dairy product tubs, and plastic bags. HDPE is not known to leach toxins.
  • #3 PVC or V (polyvinyl chloride) is found in plastic wrap, especially commercial varieties used to package deli and similar items. These plastics use hazardous compounds called phthalates to maintain their pliability. Phthalates have been found to easily leach out of PVC products. PVC can also release a material called di-(2-ethylhexyl) adipate (DEHA) when in contact with fatty foods. The use of #3 plastics is not recommended.
  • #4 LDPE (low-density polyethylene) is used for bread and frozen food bags, squeezable bottles, other types of packaging, and reusable containers. It is not known to leach toxins.
  • #5 PP (polypropylene) is found in bottles and food tubs, and reusable containers. It is not known to leach toxins.
  • #6 PS (polystyrene) is often found in foamed food containers. It can leach a number of chemicals into foods and is not recommended in the kitchen.
  • #7 OTHER is a catch-all category that includes everything else. One common #7 plastic is polycarbonate, a shatter-resistant material used in things like baby bottles and reusable water bottles. Polycarbonates readily leach a toxic compound called bisphenol-a (BPA) into food and drink. But new corn-based polylactic acid (PLA) plastics, which are generally recognized as safe, are also labeled #7. It can be hard to tell if a given #7 container is kitchen-safe without additional identifying information, so look for bottles that say they are BPA-free.

To sum up: types 1, 2, 4, and 5 are generally safe to use. Types 3 and 6 should be avoided. And Type 7 is a definite "it depends."

Of course, there are certain circumstances under which no plastic is safe to use. Heat, harsh detergents, and old age all promote the degradation of plastics and the leaching of compounds they contain. Here are our rules for using plastics safely in the kitchen:

  • Never microwave any food in any plastic of any kind, including so-called plastic wraps and "microwave safe" containers. Transfer microwaveable foods to a safe glass or ceramic alternative before heating -- even if the label says the original container can be used. The term "microwave-safe" only means the plastic in question won't become visibly damaged when heated -- not that it won't leach!
  • Don't serve or store hot foods, acidic foods, or foods with a high fat or oil content in plastic containers of any kind as these types of edibles are more likely to encourage leaching. Use glass, metal, or lead-free ceramics instead. A simple storage system can be created with any bowl and a similarly-sized plate used as a lid.
  • Avoid the temptation to save and reuse commercial food packaging and drink bottles, which are not designed for repeated uses and become more prone to leaching with repeated cleanings.
  • When reusable plastic containers made from #4 and #5 plastic become heavily worn or scratched, retire and recycle them.
  • Always wash plastic containers by hand, with warm water and mild dish liquid. Keep them out of the dishwasher.
  • Avoid putting cling wraps in direct contact with food. Instead, use unbleached wax paper or a safe container.
  • Plastic sandwich and food storage bags are typically made from polyethylene, which is considered non-toxic. However, we were unable to find any data verifying the safety of washing and reusing such bags. Since this practice could potentially make them prone to leaching, we can't recommend it. Instead, we prefer wax paper bags or reusable solutions like the SnackTaxi, the Wrap-n-Mat, or the alternatives at ReusableBags.com.
  • Practice precaution and use only glass bottles for infant feedings.
  • When it comes to buying cling wrap and reusable food containers, purchase only those that tell you exactly what type of plastic they're made from.

frank  picture
you might want to delete the link to wrap-n-mat. it's not related to the topic at all.lol
janeil picture
Thanks for sharing.
janeil picture
Thanks for sharing
rainyu542 picture
This is gonna be a informative post to those people who wants to know about this. Thank you for sharing this. It’s aware me about this. I’m gonna share this on to my friends.
josiahc picture
Not all plastics are safe for us to use. Sometimes they contain poisonous chemicals and they should be kept away from children's reach. There is a better alternative for plastic bags and that is the use of bags made of cloth. I bought mine from bluepromocode, and I feel proud that I help save Mother Earth in my own ways.
zkie picture
I have read a few of the articles on your website now, and I really like your style of blogging. I added it to my favorites blog site list and will be checking back soon. Thanks for posting, maybe we can see more on this.
grantD picture
I love to spend time cooking and I have to say that as much as I hate it, I use plastic bags more than I should. Lately I've been trying to reduce them, but I guess I'll have to struggle with this issue for a while before I get used to a plastic free kitchen. I'm trying to get as many as possible, so soon I'll be able to cook without using any plastic containers or bags.
baron_barnaby picture
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SeanGocher picture
Plastic plays a big role in our daily needs and activities... Wow... I should have known how plastics can harm us by just simply using them.. Thank you for this blog.. It did really gave me knowledge with plastics... Good thing some places started to implement plastic ban with plastic bags.. But some were still opposing the ban.. Hope they would know how dangerous plastics are not only to our health but also to our environment.. From now on i will be using plastics no more even the bags... I will just use some other alternatives such as Paper bags and other non plastic products...
Grant2 picture
Plastic is almost as indispensable to my kitchen as the Nisbets knifes are, I simply cannot cook without them. It's good to know how to avoid toxin leaching though, some of these facts were completely unknown to me. I'll make sure to pay more attention to the plastic labels from now on and use the plastic bags accordingly.
tkoeppen picture
I watched a show about a family who could fit all of their garbage FOR A YEAR into a small jar. Everything else was reused or recycled in some way. They mentioned that they take glass jars to the grocery store and have the deli/meat counter place sliced meats and cheeses directly into the jars. They do the same at the meat counter. They also use organic cotton bags for fruits/veggies, lunches, etc. They use bamboo-handled toothbrushes that are recyclable, make their own toothpaste, etc etc. They've really thought of every single thing they use in a day and have found ways to have no waste. They had many other tips, but I thought those were good ones. I'm taking baby steps in this process, and it helps that I live in a neighborhood that REQUIRES recycling. :)
andrea2390 picture
If you will go to recyclebank.com, they have a good tutorial on what single stream recycling is....etc... and they have a list near the end of the tutorial listing all of the plastics that are recyclable to return to your grocery store along with your plastic grocery bags. I can not remember them all now, but it seems like newspaper bags, bread bags, and food storage bags (rinsed out!) were some of them. Hope this helps.
jewn77 picture
I love it when I find glass pasta jars with measurements. Aldi brand sauces are labled with ounces. I don't know why I didn't think to do this sooner, but it is absolutely perfect to make up a batch of formula. (Yes, I would rather breastfeed. Sadly my daughter was slow to gain weight and I had to mix concentrated formula with breastmilk and feed her a few bottles a day. By 24 weeks, she had weaned herself.) Also, I remember my Dad taking his drink for lunch in a Mason jar. That's a great idea too.
216Stitches picture
I use them for everything. Pints, quarts Even if I get something at the store in plastic it's immediately transferred to a jar when I get home. I only use wide mouth jars so I don't have to deal with different lid sizes. I also use Pyrex and Anchor Hocking Glass storage dishes. I've been putting this stuff in the freezer for years and for the most part stuff keeps well. As for breakage, there hasn't been much and I have a rambunctious boy in the house.
jenvince picture
I like to keep a plastic newspaper bag (or the plastic bag from a Subway sandwich, which is the same size) in the side pocket of my car door. It's perfect to slip a wet umbrella into!
Lisa Boyle picture
Lisa Boyle
Recently, scientists at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany discovered that chemicals in PET plastics have the potential to interfere with estrogen and other reproductive hormones, just as BPA and phthalates--already banned in the U.S. from infant products--do. Lead researcher Professor Martin Wagner says: "If you drink water from plastic bottles, you have a high probability of drinking estrogenic compounds." Overall, Professor Wagner says, levels of these compounds in the water were surprisingly high and "having done all of these experiments, I started drinking tap water." For more on this subject please see my article: http://tinyurl.com/yk6vxvl And for lots of good information on plastics please see: www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org
cassidyrhnee picture
I realized that by being a frugal momma and making preparing food in bulk and reusing (since our recycling truck only accepts #1 and #2) all the yogurt and other containers to store the food in, I am putting my family at risk. What is the best way to store bulk food in the freezer? In addition to chicken stock I make, I usually put whatever extra rice, soup, beans, that are made into these containers and freeze. Are plastic baggies best since they are designed for this purpose?
Germany69 picture
I take the plastic newspaper bags into my children's daycare. The teachers use them to send home the kids soiled clothing.
Leivieslavishcatlounge picture
I use the Walmart plastic bags as bathroom garbage bags or for when I clean out the cat litter boxes - I have 5 cats so they poop alot ya know LOL also an idea for the newspaper plactic bags might be as a doogie poop bag? seem like they might be the right size to slip your hand in and just pick it up:-/ tie it in a knot and there ya go!
kmcleod2529 picture
Does anyone know what I can do with #4 plastic bags that my newspaper comes wrapped in? My previous carrier only put the paper in a bag if it was, or was predicted to rain. Otherwise she placed it in a special Press box I have atached to my mailbox. I was assigned a new carrier a few months ago who insists on throwing it on my driveway placed in not one but "2" plastic bags. this is such a waste. I contacted the newspaper offices to see if they had a recycling program for these bags but they just forwarded the question to the ditribution company who contacted me and had no idea of what to do with the bags. I contacted my new carrier by e-mail and he said that he has too many deliveries to customize each one. I understand his point of view and know he doesn't get paid much for the job. He said he is required to place the paper in the bags by the distribution company. In the beginning I was throwing them in the recycling bin at the grocery store but these bags are very thin plastic so I don't know if they can be recycled together. I then e-mail the grocery store and they answered back that they don't know either. Does anyone have an answer for this. Thanks.
MzScarlett picture
If I get plastic bags which I loath and they should never have even been put on the market in the first place; and there was never a need to use plastic in all things in the stores, including milk except it made a great deal of wealth for certain folks. What a tragedy! Anyway, when you realize that just the plastic water bottle containers in 1 single year 09 could circle the earth 194 times: and this doesn't even include all the other plastic containers! These folks love to have them to reuse; and I always bring any from my neighbors as well. And they are usually begging for bags of any kind!
Zorra31P picture
Thanks everyone for all the great tips! I already use glass jars (washed out empty pickle and salsa jars mostly) for storing homemade soup and salsa when I make those, but I've never thought of using them for other leftovers. Duh! I might have to start doing that (I'll have to be careful though, cause I have three kids under the age of 6... and usually little kids and glass are not a good combination.) I'm thinking about sewing some resuable single-serve size baggies out of fabric to use for lunches and stuff. I've seen some great (free!) tutorials and patterns online and I think I can do it. :)
magichands4u picture
Plastic Bag Tote Materials Needed: numerous white, blue and yellow plastic grocery bags, M hook Finished Size: 15 inches high x 16 inches wide not including the straps Note: Do not use hook that you don't want to break or be stained. I have noticed that my hook has numerous stains of dye on it from the bags, also this is hard on the hook so you don't want to use your good Brittany hooks while crocheting with plastic bags :-) Directions: with white bags ch 28 Round 1 - hdc in 2nd ch from hook and in each remaining ch, working around the backside of the ch hdc in each st, join with a sl st to 1st hdc (54 total) Round 2-5 - ch 1, hdc in each st around, join with a sl st to 1st hdc at the end of round 5 change to yellow bags, do not cut white bags Round 6-7 ch 1, with yellow bags, hdc in each st around, join with a sl st to 1st hdc, cut yellow bags, at end of round 7 pick up the dropped white bags Round 8-10 - ch 1, with white, hdc in each st around, join with a sl st to 1st hdc, at end of round 10 change to blue bags, do not cut white bags Round 11- 13 - ch 1, with blue bags, hdc in each st around, join with a sl st to 1st hdc, cut blue bags, at end of round 13, pick up the dropped white bags Round 14-20 - ch 1, with white, dc in each st around, join with a sl st to 1st hdc, at end of round 20 change to yellow bags, do not cut white bags Round 21 - ch 1, with yellow, hdc in each st around, join with a sl st to 1st hdc, cut yellow bags, at end of round 21 change to white bags Round 22- ch 1, with white hdc in next 7 sts, ch 24, sk 8 sts, hdc in the next 19 sts, ch 24, sk 8 sts, hdc in next 12, join with a sl st to 1st hdc Round 23 - ch 1, sc in next 6sts, work 28 sc around the next ch 24 sp on last round, sc in next 19 sts, work 28 scs around the next ch 24 sp on last round, sc in next 13 sps, join with a sl st in beg sc (94 total) Round 24 - ch 1, sc in each st around (94 total) HERE IS HOW YOU CAN USE UP YOUR EXCESS SUPPLY OF PLASTIC GROCERY BAGS & BREAD BAGS & ETC & HAVE FUN DOING SO.
hlporter picture
We use canvas bags for all vegetables, never plastic. If the veggies are wet, we can dry the bags after use. We reuse glass jars as containers, use glass bottles for liquids and only use glass/ceramic in the microwave (which we use as little as possible). If you compost your food waste and place all cans/plastics/glass/paper/cardboard into recycling, you'll be impressed by just how little you send to landfill. Why not challenge yourself to have a zero landfill week? Or month? The only person stopping you from making a change is you.
in2motion picture
We were visiting Halifax, Nova Scotia last summer. There was a grocery store that was actually bag free, Ikea is the same. They actually do have bags available, but you will be charged to use them; that's my kind of store!
sbrin_76 picture
Our local recycling center had to quick taking plastic sacks. They were coming in wet with pop (from cans being recycled), still wet with water from being "washed"... It actually rusted one of their balers, to the point it stopped working and they had to call someone to fix it. Several days and several thousand dollars later, the baler was fixed, but they decided not take bags anymore and let the local grocery stores be the ones to take the sacks here in town. At least we had an alternative place to take them...I mean our city isn't huge, but a population of 60,000 people and their sacks can add up fast!! People realize they don't take them and then they throw them in the trash on the way out!! I try to grab the ones I can, but it always urks me...I'm sure they'll be going to Walmart or Dillons *sometime*, they could take them there!
ODog picture
For the record, it's great that Bio-bags are made from plant material and are being used to reduce the amount of plastic bags you use at the farmers' market, but once they're filled with garbage and sent off to a landfill they're not any more likely to "biodegrade" than any other plastic bag or any other material in landfill conditions period. From the Bio-Bags web site: "If BioBags are placed in an anaerobic (air-locked) landfill and deprived of oxygen and the existence of the micro-organisms that 'eat' naturally biodegradable materials, their ability to decompose will be severely restricted. This is true of all biodegradable materials placed in this setting, including paper, yard waste and food waste. As a consumer, you should be quite suspicious of any manufacturer making claims that their products will biodegrade quickly in an air-locked landfill." So the bottom line is...be mindful that anything you send to a landfill is more or less going to be there "forever" as far as we're concerned.
Joan Groff picture
Joan Groff
Please tell me how to recycle video cassettes which have been used for recording. I have many from when I taught, but the subjects are varied and the library bool sale won't accept them.
Stephany Mallett picture
Stephany Mallett
I would like to know whether the Food Saver bags are safe. I never use them in the microware, but I do wash them and reuse them.
amtilley picture
I happen to work for a distributor that sells plastic bags among other items and the bags that you recycle at the stores get re ground to make new plastic bags. So make sure you take your bags back to the store. I personally reuse them-they make great kitty litter bags. I make sure I fill it up though so I am only using one per week.
tracelc picture
Thanks for this guide. It is so helpful and I see I have been doing it all wrong. I have been reusing (a lot) plastic water bottles and plastic food containers....and I mean A LOT! I appreciate this guide very much so...thanks again!
exerda picture
I believe the majority of recycled plastic grocery bags go into composite construction materials, like Trex-brand decking and similar products.
snuffybear picture
Wenvirly - check with your town about recycling. I'm in CT, and just found out that our town is now accepting all plastics #1-7 for recycling (used to be only 1 & 2). We switched to single stream recycling, and I think other towns have as well. Marion
organic wench picture
organic wench
When I go to the farmer's market I bring my own bags to put the veggies in, but I use the small plastic bags provided to bag the individual items. Even though I recycle these bags after I have reused them several times I can't help but think that there must be a better way. Then, DUH, it dawned on me, BioBags! They are made from plant material and biodegradable. I currently used them in the bathroom wastebaskets. Now, I will just use them for the veggies first, and then when I have used them several times I will recycle them to line the wastebaskets. Why didn't I think of this sooner? True, the BioBags must be purchased, but its worth it to keep all of that plastic out of the landfills, the oceans and mountain streams, etc. These bags range in price from $3 and change to $5 and change, depending on where they are purchased. So, as Kelly Bundy would say, "veeola!" Dilemma solved BioBags to the rescue..
aemeraldrainc picture
I've always re-used plastic grocery bags as thrash bags for the bathroom. Anybody else do that? I would feel really guilty if I were to simply throw them away. That's why now I do half and half. Half tote bags and half plastic bags when I grocery shop.
wenvirly picture
(I tried to print this article, but it would only print the second of 3 pages. Pages 1 & 3 just printed the top heading but not the text.) What about using plastics for freezing? If these plastics are all labelled with the recycle triangle,but take 1000 years to degrade, just how are they recycled? For example when you take #2 bags back to the super market to the return bin, what happens to them? And where do you send anything but #1 and #2 to be recycled? It's very hard to find places that will accept them, certainly not curbside town recycling in CT.
Diana Gabet picture
Diana Gabet
I try to not use plastic food storage bags as much as I can,and when I do I will wash them out and reuse. I mostly use glass storage conatiners with plastic lids which do not stain as plastic. Also I use quart size wide mouth canning jars that are freezer safe. You can purchase plastic reuseable lids for the jars.