Plastic in food – This is how you stop the danger already while shopping

Plastic in food – This is how you stop the danger already while shopping 1920 768 flustix

The health hazard is invisible – and is now present in countless foods. Chemicals from plastic packaging can “migrate” into the products. Fatty and sour foods are particularly at risk. We explain which substances are dangerous – and show you the cleverest alternatives.

Yogurt and lemonade, sausage and vegetables, oil and gummy bears – most foodstuffs today are packed in plastic packaging. What hardly anyone realizes is that, according to information from the consumer advice center, components from all packaging can get into the food packaged inside. Dr. Konrad Grob, one of Europe’s leading packaging experts, warned years ago: “Probably 100,000 different substances enter food from packaging materials.” Most of the substances have not even been identified, not to mention their safety tested.

That sounds dramatic! The movement of contaminants from the packaging into the food is called migration. According to information from the consumer advice center, the extent depends on seven factors:

1. on the type of “migrating” substances

2. the duration of the food’s being stored in the packaging

3. the fat and acid contents of the foodstuff

4. the size of the contact surface between the food and the packaging

5. the temperature during production

6. the storage temperature

7. UV radiation on the food in the packaging.

Even cardboard boxes, screw caps and food cans can leak harmful substances into food. Plasticizers, so-called phthalates, are particularly suspected. These include various phthalic acid compounds that are found in all plastics that are pliable and soft. Extra info for those interested in chemistry: Plasticizers usually start with “D” and go by names like di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) or di-isodecyl phthalate (DIDP).

The big problem is: Plasticizers do not form a chemical bond with the plastic, but only “hold” physically. This is why they can evaporate from packaging or be virtually washed out – unfortunately, this works particularly easily with liquids, fatty foods and acids. In this way, the plasticizers can get into our food and into the air we breathe.

Why are plasticizers so dangerous?

The substances interfere with human hormone metabolism and damage the liver. The information from the Federal Environment Agency makes it scary reading: “Some representatives of this group of substances are known as endocrine disruptors, which can damage health by altering the hormone system. Some phthalates, for example, can impair male reproductive ability. The member states of the European Union (EU), for example, classified the phthalates DEHP, DBP and BBP as toxic to reproduction. Di(2-propylheptyl)phthalate (DPHP) has been shown in animal studies to have a damaging effect on vital hormone glands, the thyroid gland and the pituitary gland. The latter controls important bodily functions and regulates the body’s hormone system. In the case of DINP and DIDP, the liver-toxic effect is the primary concern.”

Well, enjoy your meal!

There are legal limits for each individual chemical. However, scientists assume that the effects could add up. Besides, the substances are now everywhere, even in house dust! The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment investigated the intake of plasticizers in 37 food groups, as well as in toys, shoes, cosmetics, textiles, house dust and the interior air of cars. The result: the main source of intake is indeed food. Scientists do not consider the amount ingested to be a health risk. However, when children were examined, the laboratory results were alarming: In 1.5 percent of the test subjects, urine samples indicated such a high intake of plasticizers that scientists could no longer safely rule out a health risk.

Plasticizers are the worst “culprits,” but not the only ones: With our food we can also ingest the notorious bisphenol-A (BPA), as well as residues of mineral oils, adhesives, synthetic resins – and lots of microplastics.

Coconut milk. In investigations by BUND, testers found a gigantic 510 micrograms/kilo of the hormone toxin BPA in a can of coconut milk from the supermarket. Canned food is coated on the inside with an epoxy resin layer that is made on the basis of bisphenol-A. Coconut milk was by far the most highly contaminated canned food in tests.

Tuna. More than 70 percent of canned tuna samples also had BPA levels ranging from 9 to 28.5 micrograms per kilogram. Incidentally, the fat content is not the decisive factor here. The highest value was measured in a can of “tuna in its own juice.”

Canned tomatoes. The Austrian partner organization of BUND, Global2000, tested canned tomatoes for BPA. 13 out of 15 samples were contaminated, containing an average of 22 micrograms of BPA per kilogram. Fatal: Canned tomatoes are used in large quantities, especially by families with children.

Salt. Almost all table salts now contain microplastics. In a study, researchers from South Korea detected plastic particles in 36 of 39 salt samples from 21 countries. In each case, microplastic density was highest in sea salt, followed by salt from lakes and finally rock salt. 

Water. In mineral water from PET bottles, chemists detected hormone-like compounds and specifically the hormone estrogen. Water from plastic bottles contained about twice as much as water from glass bottles. Hormone-like substances are used as plasticizers. According to the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, “up to 250 plastic particles per liter were detected in isolated cases in mineral waters,” mainly in returnable bottles. The material composition of the particles indicates contamination during cleaning and refilling of the returnable bottles.

Mussels. In mussels from the French-Belgian-Dutch coast, food experts found two microplastic particles per gram of mussel meat. Depending on their origin, filamentous plastic particles were detected in wild North Sea mussels and mussels from the trade in amounts ranging from 2.6 to 6.1 particles per 10 g of mussel meat.

Tea bags. In 2019, Canadian researchers investigated whether plastics enter the water when tea bags made of nylon or PET are brewed. The result: unfortunately, lots! A single tea bag can release more than 14 billion micro- and nanoplastic particles into the water. In the laboratory test, one cup of tea contained 16 micrograms of plastic. Even normal paper bags can contain synthetic fibers, adhesives and aroma protection layers, but they are considered harmless.

Beverage cans. On behalf of BUND, a Bremen laboratory examined the inner coating of cola, soda and beer cans. The result: they contained 0.3 to 8.3 micrograms of bisphenol-A.

The only solution: shopping and feasting with a limit on plastics

The 20 good resolutions of the Flustix editorial team – very easy to implement starting tomorrow

1. Fruit and vegetables. Let’s buy as unpacked as possible in the supermarket, even if it has to be (absurdly) more expensive. From now on, the vegetable nets are ready to be kept in the bag or in the car!

2. Beer and lemonade. We rarely treat ourselves to an iced “Tssssshhh” drink from a can anymore. We buy beer in bottles anyway, and switch completely to glass bottles for tonic and soda.

3. Fats. We no longer buy cream, crème fraîche or mayonnaise in plastic cups – if there is an alternative in glass. The same goes for olives or antipasti in oil. Glass and porcelain are the only materials from which nothing can evaporate.

4. Coconut milk. Let’s buy in a tetrapack for now. An even better idea is to buy fresh coconut and make coconut milk yourself for the first time. Less ambitious amateur cooks can try a mix of grated coconut and milk.

5. Bread. We prefer bread from the bakery or fresh shelf, and transport it in a paper bag or vegetable net. Plastic-wrapped “emergency” rolls are eliminated. We freeze some or “bake” pan bread from flour and water in a flash.

6. Canned tomatoes. Are banned from the house! There is also tomato puree in glass bottles or tetrapacks – and fresh tomatoes.

7. Legumes. Kidney beans, chickpeas or white beans we take only in an emergency from the can. There are also legumes in jars (health food store) – and of course dried. Home-cooked chickpeas taste better anyway.

8. Yogurt. Causes a veritable flood of plastic in many families. We resolve to buy yogurt in jars more often. If we have a lot of free time during the day, we might try another yogurt DIY experiment. It’s actually very easy.

9. Water. We only buy plastic water in exceptional cases. We prefer to fetch tap water ourselves – in glass table carafes.

10. Salt. Next time we go shopping, we won’t use sea salt anymore, but switch to rock salt.

11. Tea. We sometimes find tea bags quite practical, but now only buy organic brands. We use loose tea more often – and buy a practical filter can.

12. Tuna. We’re switching to products in jars. Unfortunately, the screw-on lid is not ideal in combination with oil either. So all those who eat a lot of tuna can only reduce their consumption a little.

13. Sausage. Buy fresh at the counter. Especially high-fat salami wrapped in plastic unfortunately has a good chance of absorbing plasticizers.

14. Oil. We buy olive oil in glass bottles anyway. From now on also sunflower oil for deep frying.

15. Snacks. After the tea bag shock, we no longer pour ready-made meals in a plastic cup, but transfer the powder into a bowl or porcelain cup beforehand. We no longer heat microwave meals or boil-in-a-bag dishes in the plastic packaging – simply repackage beforehand.

16. Packaging. Unfortunately, we have to dispose of them right now. Plastic packaging is meant to be used once and for a specific purpose. We no longer use yogurt cups or ice boxes to freeze or store other foods.

17. Take off. We unwrap shrink-wrapped foods as soon as possible after shopping and store them in glass or porcelain containers.

18. Butter. Usually comes out of the plastic tub as a canola oil and butter mixture. We are considering switching to butter. Transferring to a glass jar sounds very inconvenient.

19. Meat counter. We dare to ask for the first time at the counter if we can get the meat in our tupperware. Don’t worry, a lot of customers already do it that way.

20. Quantity. We no longer buy fruits and vegetables in kilo plastic trays, but rather in the exact amount that we can eat and store. In the unpackaged store, we “tap” exotic ingredients like quinoa in trial quantities for a specific recipe.1. Obst und Gemüse. Kaufen wir im Supermarkt möglichst lose ein, auch wenn es (absurderweise) teurer sein sollte. Die Gemüsenetze liegen ab jetzt griffbereit in der Tasche oder im Auto!

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