A little over a decade ago, plastics manufacturers ditched a chemical known as DEHP because it was identified as a probable carcinogen. DEHP was replaced with another series of phthalates and environmental chemicals. As it turns out, these may not be any better than the DEHP they replaced.
Case in point: A new study from Hypertension suggests that these replacements may cause some of the same negative health effects as the chemical they replaced. Two of these chemicals in particular, DIDP and DINP, may be connected to high blood pressure in American children. In another study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, the same researchers identified a possible connection between DINP and insulin resistance.
Unfortunately, eliminating these unproven and untested chemicals from the manufacturing world is difficult. Unlike with some chemicals—the ones used in medicine, for example--the chemicals used in plastic do not have to be widely studied before they're used in consumer products. (For more, read Time's article "These Plastic Chemicals May Be Just As Dangerous As What They Replace.")
So is it finally time to say let's ditch plastic forever? Well, no, not yet. These studies don't prove definitively that there is this connection between chemicals in our plastics and health problems. The researchers even called for further studies to confirm their associations and to find possible solutions or interventions.
In the meantime, here are some smart tips for better using plastic food storage containers:
1) Don't heat your plastics. If you've got leftovers stored in plastic, take them out and heat them up on a glass plate or bowl.
2) Hand wash. Putting plastic in the dishwasher can cause some of the chemicals to leach from the plastic--and into your food.
3) Don't cut your plastics. Scratches and cuts allows these chemicals to transfer to your food.
4) Read the label. If the plastic says it's microwave safe, it probably is. A recycle number of 3, 6, or 7 on the bottom indicates the use of the in-question chemicals, and these containers should head straight to your recycle bin.
5) Use glass. I've become a big fan of glass containers in recent months. In fact, I'm on a one-woman mission to rid my house of plastic. It isn't necessarily for health reasons. I just like having vessels I can store, heat, and eat from without worry. Here are a few of my favorites: