Health

Heat and fat contaminate food with plastic

Plastic is a killer. A killer for every form of life on this planet. There are many researches (1) out there giving some figures about how much plastic people consume. One of the latest studies came from the University of Newcastle in Australia (2) last year. Apparently, people ingest 2000 microplastic particles every week or in order words – 5 grams. A credit card is an easy way to visualise it too, it weighs the same.

Plastic cards
Would you eat a meal made of plastic?

Whatever option you prefer, grams or credit cards, not a single particle of plastic should enter in our body. Lobbies against plastic, environmental organisations and volunteers fight plastic from different angles nowadays. But, people may not realise in how many ways our food gets contaminated by plastic or its chemicals. So, prevention or some lifestyle changes can reduce the food contamination, in order to prevent future health conditions. Exposure to it is linked to cancers, birth defects, impaired immunity, endocrine disruption and other ailments.

Apples in a plastic bag
Apples in a plastic bag in a supermarket

If all chemicals found in plastics stayed in the packaging, there wouldn’t be such a problem. However, the reality confirms a different scenario. Chemicals can easily leak and enter the enclosed food. The contamination will largely depend on four factors(3):

  • Percentage of the fat content in the food
  • Proximity of food to the plastic
  • Length of storage time
  • Heat

The percentage of the fat content in the food: fat acts as a vehicle for plastic. The greater the proportion of fat, the greater the extent of food contamination.

The proximity of food to plastic: food that is in a direct contact with plastic will increase the level of contamination. An example: milk in plastic bottles, salads in plastic containers…

The length of the storage time: longer storage times will increase the migration of plastic and additives into food.

The heat: anything that increases the temperature can significantly increase leaking of plastics and additives into food.

So, in order to prevent that the food is contaminated and ruined, people should avoid the clingfilm and should not microwave food that’s covered with the clingfilm. Same for the ready-made meals, avoid cooking them in their plastic containers. Luckily, the non fatty food seems less affected by the plastic packaging. Apparently, fruit and vegetables have relatively low levels of contamination.

Loose apples
Different types of loose apples on a supermarket display

On the other hand, the use of aluminium foil doesn’t appear to add too many chemicals to products. However, it can taint salty or acidic food.

The plastic war will last for years and years and while the humans continue using it, various health conditions will continue to appear. Avoid it as much as you can, it’s a difficult task but not impossible.

And as the last note, plastic may not be always particularly obvious. So open your eyes. Packaging that appears to be made of natural materials can still contain some plastic parts.

References:

(1) https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.9b01517

(2) https://www.newcastle.edu.au/newsroom/featured/plastic-ingestion-by-people-could-be-equating-to-a-credit-card-a-week

(3) Baillie-Hamilton, P. (2002). The Detox Diet. London: Penguin Books Ltd.

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