The very unfantastic plastic and why it's so dangerous as food wrapping.

The problem with plastic.

Plastic as such isn't a problem. The polymer molecules  it's made from are large. Too large in fact to move from the packaging into the food.  Well that's good news then, no problem right?

Unfortunately no, most plastic wrapping also contain very small molecules that can migrate into food that it comes in contact with. Particularly foods that contain fat and when the plastic warms up.  This is because the plastic itself starts to breakdown and releases monomer and other toxic chemicals that are added to plastic when it is manufactured to give it clinging and stretching abilities.  

The plastics that cause the most  concern are:

Polycarbonate –  used to make plastic  food storage containers and bottles, and the epoxy resin used to line tin  cans. It can release bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that many experts now believe can cause serious health problems.
PVC – used to make bottles, cling wrap and the seals for screw-cap jars.

On its own, PVC is hard and rigid (it's used to make drains, guttering and downpipes), so extra chemicals called plasticisers are added to make it soft and flexible.  Plasticisers can make up as much as 40% of the plastic material. Phthalates and epoxidised soybean oil (ESBO) are often added as plasticisers to the PVC that's used for food packaging. Again, recent research raises doubts about the safety of these compounds.

What's the risk?

BPA and some phthalates are endocrine disruptors, meaning they can mimic the body's natural hormones and thereby cause a raft of health problems. Infants and the very young are most vulnerable to exposure because of their lower body weight and because their growth and development are strongly influenced by hormones; the effects on health can be lifelong. These effects have been seen clearly and consistently in experiments with animals, and when people or wildlife have been accidentally exposed to high levels of endocrine disruptors.

While these compounds are undoubtedly hazardous at high levels of exposure, scientific opinion is divided over the risk from the much lower levels that we're exposed to every day in our food. There is, however, growing scientific evidence that even at these lower levels of exposure, phthalates and BPA may be causing problems such as infertility, obesity, breast cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease and diabetes.  To ne honest why take the risk even if it is small?



BPA is rapidly eliminated from the body, but because of continuous exposure most of us have detectable levels of BPA in our body. 

It won't surprise you to know that the plastic industry much kike the tobacco and laterly sugar industry, ,strenuously refutes any findings and continues to insist that BPA is harmless at the low levels to which we're regularly exposed in our food.

Again why take the risk if you don't have too.

Sure some of the  evidence is not conclusive, but there's now far too much of it to be ignored. The underlying science is sound and the potential for such effects is real.


Phthalates are now used in so many products they are almost impossible to avoid. A Swiss study found people who eat healthily and try to avoid chemical additives in their food are exposed to much the same levels of phthalates as those who eat junk food and don't worry about their diet at all. Experiments with animals have consistently shown that some phthalates can be endocrine disruptors but, as with BPA, the evidence for adverse health effects from low-level exposure to phthalates is more limited. Again, though, there's too much of it to be ignored.

Because of its low cost, DEHP is the phthalate most often used as a plasticiser for PVC. Experts now generally agree that low level exposure to DEHP can affect reproductive development, particularly in young boys, and a US study has found a link between exposure to phthalates and increased risk of diabetes and obesity in men.


ESBO is one of the most frequently used additives to PVC when used for containers or packaging for food. It functions as a stabiliser as well as a plasticiser. Lid seals are formed at high temperatures, which causes the PVC in the seal to partially break down and release hydrogen chloride.

ESBO reacts with the hydrogen chloride and prevents further breakdown of the plastic, but in doing so it forms compounds called chlorohydrins. Chlorohydrins make up, at most, five per cent  of the ESBO but they are toxic. Chlorohydrins have been detected in foods closed in glass screw-cap jars.

Some plastics have been shown to have no known effect on human or animal health in terms of leaching chemicals.  Milk containers and the plastic bag inside cereal boxes are types of low level harm.

Plastic waste is another issue which you can read about here.

This article is address the danger factor of plastic for storing or wrapping food.  Basically don't do if you can avoid it.

Humwraps are all natural and breathable allowing your food to stay fresher for longer and contain no nasty chemicals or toxins.  Use stainless steel og glass storage containers where possible.


Also check out 11 ways to reduce your plastic use.


What are the regulators in Australia doing about it?

The plastics industry has been fighting off tighter regulation. It's a huge industry with vast resources (worldwide, it produces about 0.4 million tonnes per year of phthalates and more than two million tonnes of BPA) and independent scientists have complained about an aggressive disinformation campaign. Certainly, industry websites blatantly highlight studies that support their point of view and ignore those that don't.


The use of plastics for wrapping or packaging foods is governed by the Food Standards Code, which sets a limit for the level permitted in food of highly toxic vinyl chloride monomer (10 parts per billion) yet no specific limits for BPA, DEHA or phthalates. These compounds come under a vague clause in this code that prohibits materials "likely to cause bodily harm, distress or discomfort". Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), our food regulator, maintains that BPA and phthalates pose no significant health risks at the low levels found in food. 

Consumers in Europe and North America are better protected. 

Canada, the European Union and some states of the US have phased-out the use of BPA in some products. In the US at the federal level, the FDA is taking steps to reduce human exposure to BPA in the food supply.

These steps include:

supporting the industry's actions to stop producing BPA-containing baby bottles and infant feeding cups for the US market
facilitating the development of alternatives to BPA for the linings of infant formula cans
supporting efforts to replace BPA or minimise BPA levels in other food can linings.
In Australia, nothing has been done other than the introduction of a purely voluntary phase-out by major retailers of polycarbonate plastic baby bottles containing BPA.   

The European Union began to take action on phthalates in 1999. As a result six phthalates (including DEHP) have been banned in toys and other children's products at levels greater than 0.1%. The EU has also restricted the use of these phthalates in food contact applications. Since 2008 the US has banned DEHP and other phthalates at levels greater than 0.1% in toys and childcare articles.

In Australia, the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) reported on DEHP in 2010 and recommended action. DEHP is now banned from toys and childcare articles, but only at levels exceeding one per cent – a limit 10 times  higher than in the US and the EU.


Plastic products to avoid

You can often identify the type of plastic from its identification code – unfortunately, in Australia  this code is voluntary and you won't find it on all plastic packaging. Look for the codes 1 (PET), 2 (HDPE), 4 (LDPE), 5 (PP) and 6 (PS). Whenever possible avoid the codes 3 (PVC) or 7 (a catch-all category that includes polycarbonate).  

To be really safe avoid plastic wrapping if at all possible.

Avoid fresh meat, fruit or vegetables wrapped in cling wrap. Most supermarkets and many independent butchers and greengrocers are still wrapping meat and fresh vegetables in cling wrap made from PVC.
Avoid reusable plastic bottles. Also heating and washing (Like putting them in a dish washer or sink of hot water) polycarbonate bottles can increase the amount of BPA that leaches out.
Consider cutting down on canned foods, as can linings can leach BPA directly into the food.
Avoid take away food containers and definitely avoid using any plastic containers when cooking or reheating food in a microwave oven. Use glass containers for high-fat foods, as toxic chemicals are more likely to migrate into fatty foods at high temperatures.


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