Q. Are Plastics Safe?

By Karen Ansel, M.S., R.D., July/August 2008

Are Plastics Safe?

A. Likely you’re referring to the potential dangers of polycarbonate plastics—often used in reusable water bottles, clear plastic food-storage containers and some baby bottles. Polycarbonates contain bisphenol-A (BPA), an estrogenlike chemical also used in the linings of some food and drink cans. Studies link BPA to the development of precancerous lesions and abnormal development of reproductive systems in animals. While BPA can leach into food and drinks, whether it actually affects human health currently is not known.

What is known is that we’re all exposed to plenty of the chemical. In a 2005 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, 95 percent of people screened tested positive for BPA.

A study published in early 2008 in Toxicology Letters suggested that hot liquids and foods exacerbate leaching in BPA-containing plastics. When researchers poured boiling water into polycarbonate drinking bottles, it caused up to 55 times more BPA to seep out than room-temperature water had.

Consumer concern peaked in April after the National Toxicology Program (part of the National Institutes of Health) issued a draft report noting that, given the current science, the possibility couldn’t be ruled out. In September 2008, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said that BPA is safe for adults and children at current exposure levels.

Whether washing containers in hot water causes them to break down and release BPA the next time they’re used isn’t clear: only a handful of studies have been conducted, and results are conflicting. While heating these plastics in the microwave hasn’t been studied, it’s not recommended. “We assume there is increased leaching with any kind of heating,” says Anila Jacob, M.D., a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group.

Bottom line: Manufacturers currently aren’t required to label BPA so there’s no way of knowing if it’s present in the plastics or cans you use. For now, the best way to reduce your exposure is to use stainless steel, glass or plastics labeled “BPA-free.” If you’re not sure about a product, recommends Jacob, call the manufacturer.

We’re fans of the BPA- and phthalate-free everyday kitchen tools from Preserve Kitchen by Recycline, pictured above.


i heard you could tell by the "recycling number" on the bottom of the container - that a certain number would indicate the presence of BPA - do you know if this is true?


04/29/2010 - 5:15pm

#7 plastics usually contain BPA, unless labeled BPA free- the safest ones are #1,2, and 5 (that's what I've heard)


04/29/2010 - 8:39pm

That is true. I am not sure of the numbers off the top of my head. I know you could Google and find out.


04/29/2010 - 9:11pm

Plastic containers have recycle codes on the bottom. In general, plastics that are marked with recycle codes 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 are very unlikely to contain BPA. Some, but not all, plastics that are marked with recycle codes 3 or 7 may be made with BPA.


05/03/2010 - 3:49pm

If at all possible, transfer your food to a ceramic, glass, or stainless container, depending on how one is heating your food. They were used for years and are safe. Invest in your health, buy glass for storage and heating in any type of oven. Corning stove top is also safe for the microwave too..


04/15/2012 - 9:42pm

Anyone know about FREEZING with the older plastic storage containers (or even storing leftovers temporarily in the frig' ?? (Including plastic freezer bags??) I have 2 small freezers crammed full of many meals I've cooked & stored stored for when low time & energy--have a major stamina condition ( & retired, so not a lot of $$ for replacing with very expensive glass containers!) Also, a big veg. gardener, & put lots of my green beans, tomatoes, plums, etc. in freezer bags & throw every summer in the freezer. And no, I don't have the energy (or heat-tolerance) to home-CAN all this stuff--don't like how it tasts anywho!) THX!!


04/17/2012 - 2:02pm

No, its harms the environment the most.


06/25/2013 - 7:26am

Do you know how safe tupperware is?


05/22/2014 - 6:20pm

Some bottles have the #7 but are still BPA free however the words "BPA Free" must be printed on the bottle.


07/21/2014 - 3:00pm

was wondering about the number 5 on a storage container this morning. Thanks for sharing


11/05/2014 - 11:57am

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