If you have been looking for ways to reduce your family's use of plastic in your home, there is no better time than the present, especially in light of a recent statement and technical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The pediatric group worries that chemicals in plastic containers and packaging can be particularly harmful to children, so it should be avoided whenever possible.
“Suggested in accumulating evidence from nonhuman laboratory and human epidemiological studies is that chemicals used in food and food contact materials may contribute to disease and disability,” reads the policy statement.
These chemicals include bisphenols, phthalates, perfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFCs), perchlorate, nitrates, and nitrites. These are often used in food plastic containers and packaging, preservatives for processed meat products, and the lining of metal canned goods. When they’re present in the packaging or container, the harmful chemicals leach into food and then introduced to the body when consumed.
Children are may be most susceptible to the harmful effects of these chemicals
“Data about health effects of food additives on infants and children are limited or missing; however, in general, infants and children are more vulnerable to chemical exposures,” says the AAP.
According to The New York Times, the chemicals could interfere with “the body’s natural hormones in ways that may affect [a baby's] long-term growth and development.” It includes disrupting the timing of puberty, reduced fertility, and changes in sex organ development. In pregnant women, the chemicals could increase the likelihood of childhood brain tumors in the infant.
With this, the AAP is now recommending that precautions be taken when storing food at home and choosing which products to buy at the grocery. “The good news is there are safe and simple steps people can take right now to limit exposures, and they don’t have to break the bank,” Dr. Leonardo Trasande, the lead author of the statement and chief of the division of environmental pediatrics at New York University’s School of Medicine, tells NYT.
As per the AAP, it's best to keep these in mind, parents:
“Avoid microwaving food or beverages (including infant formula and pumped human milk) in plastic, if possible.” Transfer the food to another container whenever possible before placing it in the microwave. As explained by Harvard Health, “When food is wrapped in plastic or placed in a plastic container and microwaved, BPA and phthalates may leak into the food. Any migration is likely to be greater with fatty foods such as meats and cheeses than with other foods.”
“Use alternatives to plastic, such as glass or stainless steel, when possible.” Glass or stainless steel containers may be more costly. However, plenty of options are available in the market now that prices can vary to more affordable ranges. Stainless steel, rather than breakable glass, may be best for kids.
“Look at the recycling code on the bottom of products to find the plastic type, and avoid plastics with recycling codes 3 (phthalates), 6 (styrene), and 7 (bisphenols)”
“Avoid processed meats, especially maternal consumption during pregnancy.” Processed meats include includes meat that has been salted, cured, or otherwise altered to improve flavor and preservation, says the AAP. Babies born to mothers with high intake of nitrate-cured meats have been shown to have an increased risk of childhood brain tumors, they add.
“Prioritize consumption of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables.”
“Encourage hand-washing before handling foods and/or drinks, and wash all fruits and vegetables that cannot be peeled.”