Of course plastic containers, as well as food and drink cans with resin linings, should be avoided to minimize exposure to BPA and phthalates in particular. But less obvious sources of chemicals are also found in grease-resistant coatings used in products including many fast food containers, microwave popcorn bags and even pet food bags. These can leach harmful perfluorochemicals (PFCs)—which have been linked to smaller birth weight and size in newborn babies, elevated cholesterol, abnormal thyroid hormone levels, liver inflammation and weaker immune defense against disease—into food. Research has also found high levels of phthalates in delivery pizza boxes made from recycled cardboard. Meanwhile, a study in the October 2011 issue of The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology found not just BPA and phthalates, but also endocrine-disrupting organotins and the carcinogen benzophenone among the many toxic chemicals that can migrate from packaging into food. “Printing inks, adhesives, recycled cardboard and plastic containers all can introduce unwanted chemicals into a single food product,” notes study author Jane Muncke, Ph.D., an environmental toxicologist in Cham, Switzerland, who adds that chemicals may degrade over time or form new compounds that migrate into food, which are challenging or even impossible to regulate or measure.
Smart solutions Fresh, whole foods are almost always better than packaged ones for averting chemicals and simply ensuring a healthier diet in general. To really cut down on toxic food packaging, stock up on items from bulk bins, which is also better for your budget and the environment. Glass, ceramic, stoneware, aluminum and stainless steel containers are all safer storage options than plastic, according to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), headquartered in New York City. When purchasing cling-wrapped food from the supermarket or deli, the NRDC suggests slicing off a thin layer where the food came into contact with the plastic and storing the rest in a glass or ceramic container.