Cooking - plastic fantastic?

04 December 2018

Question

Is it really safe to cook food in plastic, or am I in danger of chemicals leaching into my dinner?

Answer

Chris Smith put Katie's question to chemist Ljiljana Fruk...

Ljiljana - Before I go into this question, we have to say that plastic is basically a common name for a large group of polymers and they are all a little bit different. So in a chemistry lab we will use these polyethylene containers, which are really inert and they don't have any kind of additives that will leach, they are very stable, but of course if you have a food containers or bottles or even some of the foils that you use for microwaveable food, they are made of different polymers. One is polycarbonate. It's kind of this transparent material. And to make this polycarbonate you usually need to use other additives, small chemical additives in the process.

Chris - They are called plasticizers.

Ljiljana - Like plasticizers. So they are embedded in the polymer, but some of them will be staying there and so if you heat up the polymer they can leach out. And one of these, and you might have heard of this, is bisphenol A, which is now kind of on the list of banned substances and you will find also lots of materials which are free of bisphenol A. But this didn't solve a problem because now you have other additives that might have a similar effect and the effect is that they disrupt our hormone cascades. So you know our emotions are controlled with hormones. So bisphenol A will basically mimic the hormones and activate them. So it's called an endocrine disruptor. So if you have too much of this in your food it’s of course not very good. So the answer is, yes you might get something, but of course it depends on the type of container and material.

Chris - Eleanor?

Eleanor - Is there any way of knowing which one I can cook my food in or which one I can't or...

Ljiljana - Usually you will have the notice on the bottom, if you check, and it tells you if it's safe to heat. It's not that we are given something that is not controlled. There are some safe amounts of these chemicals that can enter the food chain and they usually do. You know and we continously get stuff and our body can deal with it. It is just that, yes, you know there are possibilities that if you have a particular food that might react with some of these compounds, you might get some side products. So, I would you know, I would microwave my things in the glass dishes, if I have to, for example.

Chris - Happy with that Katie?

Katie - I think I am going to go home and rearrange my kitchen.

Ljiljana - The precautions are taken. So you know things are under control. I wouldn’t throw out all of my Tupperware out.

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