(Guest post by Mike Morgan of It’s a Fair Meal)
As someone who’s been using plastic containers to reheat food for nearly 20 years, it’s hard for me to say that plastic is terrible. (Not to mention I’ve also left water bottles in my car during the summer, and I’m still here to talk about it).
However, I can provide some information on which plastics to avoid as well as a solution to help end the ongoing plastic versus glass debate.
You can determine plastic’s safety by its resin identification code
On the bottom of plastic containers is something called a resin identification code. It is a single number whose purpose is to inform consumers about the type of plastic an item is made from and whether or not, as well as how, the item can be recycled. The code numbers range from 1-7. Numbers 1,2,4, and 5 are generally known as the “safe” numbers, meaning you can store food and drinks in these types of containers. Numbers 3, 6, and 7 are generally known as the “unsafe” numbers, meaning you should avoid storing food or drink in them.
“Unsafe” numbers contain BPA
The “unsafe” numbers contain a chemical called Bisphenol A (BPA). BPA is used in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, meaning it is frequently found in plastic ware. It can leak into your food or drink when the plastic is heated. Studies have shown that exposure to BPA can have negative effects on the brain, prostate gland, and behavior of fetuses and infants. Consumption of BPA might also increase blood pressure. This is a big deal for anyone who reheats food in plastic containers, puts their plastic containers in the dishwasher, or has left a plastic cup or bottle in a car on a hot summer day. Avoiding BPA is not easy, but there is a solution.
Switch your containers over to glass slowly, rather than all at once
Glass containers can be expensive, so it may not be feasible to just throw away all plastics and switch to glass. What I’ve learned to do is gradually switch to glass containers as my plastic ones get old—a small price compared to switching the bottles all at once. I’ve also done the same for my spices; plastic containers that hold spices at room temperature for long periods of time can also leak some BPA into the spices.
Personally, I prefer the glass containers because they don’t get stained the way plastic ones do when you put something in them, such as spaghetti sauce. I also like the ability to reheat my food in the oven. With plastic, I had noticed that sometimes the microwave didn’t do the best job of making my leftovers taste as good as they did the day before.
Some plastic containers are fine to keep
However, I wouldn’t recommend completely ditching all plastics bottles or containers; they still have good use. When you work out, you might not want to carry a glass bottle with you. Keep a BPA-free plastic bottle for workouts, and fill it with cold liquids. You can also keep plastic containers to store food that isn’t hot, but when you’re ready to heat the food, be sure to transfer it to a glass container. Meals such as salads are still fine to store in BPA-free plastic, since they don’t require heating. Be sure to replace your plastic containers yearly to get the best and safest use out of them.