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Food prep/storage and plastics-taking steps?

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I am lucky enough to have a 25-year-old daughter who is deeply involved in the environmental movement. Some of the time I take her advice with a grain of organically-gathered salt: I haven't stopped wearing lipstick and nail polish, yet.

But her kitchen advice has been sound and, generally, just one step ahead of the pack. I have totally greened my home cleaning routine, eliminated phosphates and banned chlorine bleach, for example.

Kate has asked for enviro-friendly storage units for Christmas so that she never has to use plastics again. Then, in this month's issue of Good Housekeeping ( a rather conservative publication on envro-issues), there is a thoughtful piece that gives the plastics industry line on BPA/bisthenal(?). Not surprising as their advertising still pays the bills at major magazines. However, the writer conludes by saying she is getting rid of her plastic cutting boards and questions whether she will use plastics in her micro-wave in the future.

What is the temperature like out there in Chowland on this issue? Is it time to convert to To-go stainless steel 'tiffns', switch to wood cutting boards only and bring out those small pyrex containers with the glass lids?

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  1. I think some of the environmental moves can have negative effects. For example- Compact Fluorescent Lighting contains mercury, but I got them to save on my electric bills. Items made from organic materials (wood, paper, wicker, bamboo, etc) seems to draw insects unless some toxic insecticides are added into the process.

    I am otherwise still assessing my moves.

    4 Replies
    1. re: RShea78

      CFL lights are completely safe as long as they are disposed of properly. Home Depot has a recycling bin SPECIFICALLY for CFLs for instance. As far as cutting boards, I for one don't purchase boards very often and I've NEVER had an instance where I felt it attracted bugs (?!?!?!). I've been using one particular John Boos (wood) board for over 10 years now and it's not in any danger of being replaced anytime soon. I also have a plastic board that I bought about 3 years ago and it's not in any danger of being replaced either.

      I'm in the environmental field myself and I understand, respect, and follow as many guidelines as I can but hey, we've got to have a cutting board right?! Plastic vs. wood isn't really an issue for me. It's not like I buy one per year and then toss it. If you want to get picky, ask yourself how much water you use to wash a wood board. I would venture to guess if you look at the real specifics, that it takes more water to wash a wood cutting board by hand than to wash a plastic board in the dishwasher. In other words there are always consequences to what you choose to do. Your job as a responsible consumer and a responsible mother ;-) is to evaluate what item can be used in the most efficient and environmentally friendly way possible. Once you think about all factors like length of use, recyclable capability, etc. you can choose appropriately and feel confident about your decision.

      1. re: HaagenDazs

        Interesting responses.

        Rshea: I shopped this weekend for bamboo cutting boards that were advertised as 'non-treated' with anti-bug stuff...I live in Canada where we really don't worry too much about insect infestations, too cold (LOL)...only slightly more expensive...you make a good point.

        Let me just correct one thing...the issue with the plastic cutting board raised by Good Housekeeping (and previously by my offspring) was not one of washing it, but the amount of plastic likely integrated into food by cutting on it. In other words, there are minute amounts of plastic being chopped right into your salad every day when you use a plastic board and they are measureable in your body. If you don't believe me just look at the wear on your average plastic board after just one month of daily use.

        This was the point made by the writer in this other-wise rather non-alarmist publication. She also pointed ou that she cut away the slices of cheese closest to the plastic wrap before giving them to her children whihc totally blew me away as I think mine happily munched on cheese wrapped plastic on busy days when they were small!

        Yes, I know you are probably as dismissive as I was intially, but then I was a bit dubious about giving up my bottled water initially, too. But that is now clearly the right thing to do both for the environment and for our insides!

        1. re: LJS

          You can have my Press N' Seal and my Stretch-Tite plastic wrap when you pry it etc. I am trying to turn as Green as possible, but it seems like everyday there's something else to worry about. I never was a bottled water, or plastic soda consumer, so I fee like I'm entitled to wear slightly bigger carbon shoes on this one point. Just say NO to freezer burn!!! Adam

          1. re: LJS

            ""Let me just correct one thing...the issue with the plastic cutting board raised by Good Housekeeping (and previously by my offspring) was not one of washing it, but the amount of plastic likely integrated into food by cutting on it. In other words, there are minute amounts of plastic being chopped right into your salad every day when you use a plastic board and they are measureable in your body. If you don't believe me just look at the wear on your average plastic board after just one month of daily use.""

            I rate that one to the loose nut behind the knife!

            Poor or aggressive knife skills, using serrated knives (a no-no in my domicile) and the likes do more damage to cutting boards, than the actual cutting.

            Some time back, I saw a waitress literally sawing a lemon taking an extra 5 strokes per slice, beyond what was necessary. I mean she was putting more work effort into the cutting board than cutting the lemon. Now if anyone would ever looked at that cutting board would not have eaten there, considering the 1/2 inch thick was lucky to have 1/4 inch of material left, in the center area.

      2. I take "hazards" with a grain of salt. I understand the dangers of microwaving food in plastic as heat can promote chemical leaching. I understand switching from bottled water due to the waste all those bottles produce.

        Technically, cheese shouldn't be wrapped in plastic anyway (waxed paper or cheese paper is best), but I really wouldn't worry about slicing away the parts that touch plastic.

        Also, plastic is digestible, so if you are getting minute amounts into your food, it's going straight through. Show me the report that says those minute particles are detectable in your body. Then show me the detection levels of the lab that was used and also the Maximum Contaminant Levels set by EPA.

        If there's one thing you want to go all out for, spring for the glass containers and lids and don't use plastic wrap in the microwave.

        1 Reply
        1. re: leanneabe

          ""Also, plastic is digestible, so if you are getting minute amounts into your food, it's going straight through.""

          I would not refer to plastic as being digestible, as digestible means we are to gain some benefit from consumption of it. (Like having some nutritional value...) Plastic is either toxic or non-toxic, at some level of consumption. (Like melamine)

        2. I have always used a wooden cutting board, never jumped onto the plastic cutting board bandwagon. I have started using more environmentally friendly cleaners and other home products, but I weigh the benefits. There are some products that just done seem to do as well and others are very expensive. I don't think it is a bad idea to get away from the worst and most wasteful products (swiffer, paper towels) and every little bit helps.

          I do use the CFL bulbs and have cut my electricity comsumption by 1/2 according to the electric company. I am concerned about the mercury that could be released into your home if the bulb breaks, but I have read that it is a miniscule amount compared to what might have been released by dropping a old-fashioned thermometer.

          1. Although there's always the possibility of the latest killer industrial ingredient coming down the pike, right now it is rather simple to avoid BPA when it comes to plastic storage, which was a main part of the OP. BPA is used in the production specifically of polycarbonate. Plastic bottles and containers made of polycarbonate are marked with a recycling code 7. Now, 7 is "other" so not all 7s are polycarb. A good example of polycarb is an original Nalgene bottle. It's a particularly hard plastic and less susceptible to scratching and staining, which is why it became rather desirable most recently even though it's been around a while. In storage containers, the trick is to just get the more scratchable, more stainable number 5 polypropylene plastic, what your more typical Rubbermaid and such has been for a couple decades or more. We just got a new set of Snapware at Costco that is made of that and in fact made in the US it proclaims. (I hope it's not Saipan or somewhere.) So the short of it is no BPA is used in the production of the polypropylene or any other plastic used in such containers other than polycarbonate. And the tradeoff is perhaps mainly one of appearance with the staining and such, which is mostly mitigated if you don't do things like microwave tomato sauce in them. ;-)

            The real trick is ferreting out the hidden BPA. My understanding is that the linings of most metal food and drink cans contains BPA. Some sources say the canned food is the biggest problem for BPA, much more of an issue than water bottles and storage containers. It's possible that the popular Sigg aluminum bottles could contain it in their lining. As far as I know, they have not clearly stated that it doesn't, which is suspect in that way, stating only that it is approved (which BPA is, of course). If you want a trendy non-plastic water bottle a good choice is Klean Kanteen, which is a thin and light stainless steel bottle which doesn't require a plastic liner.

            I don't know what the typical plastic cutting boards are made of, I would not think polycarbonate as it would be a bit too hard! But even if they were, I wouldn't think the risk would be any greater than the water bottle, which I would tend to think is less risk than the food cans.

            There are new similar plastics which are also tagged #7 that do not contain BPA, and it's a big enough issue at the moment (correctly or not) that vendors using such a plastic will tout them as BPA-free. Some food companies use BPA-free cans, but this can be tough to figure out. Even some of the most organic things you can think of that are canned might be in a can with BPA. Here is just one article on canned stuff http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/... I suggest not necessarily drawing alarming conclusions from it right away and doing more of your own research if you can. I haven't done much digging beyond just tonight, just mainly wanted to share bits of what I heard and note that I still bought that Snapware recently. ;-)

            1. Glad I am not alone in worrying these things through...I remain convinced that the packaging and storage of tomorrow will look VERY different from the packaging of today, and ironically, far more like the packaging of yesterday, i.e. more glass.

              1. Dumped the plastic containers in favor of glass, however the anchor hocking and pyrex glass storage units still come with plastic covers. Those covers will become misshapen if used in the microwave, so if I'm nuking some leftover I'll cover with a plate or wax paper. Never use plastic of any sort in the microwave - the jury may still be out on this issue, but it's a risk I prefer not to take. Same with reusable water bottles - have changed to steel over nalgene or aluminum. And I'll use canning jars as well for leftover or other food storage.

                For mixing bowls, stainless steel, glass or ceramic are the way to go. As far as cutting boards, I use about four wooden boards, but cannot give up plastic yet. I'm not comfortable cutting up raw meats, poultry or fish on wooden boards so must use plastic there, and I'm not successful removing the garlic or onion odor from wooden boards, so they get cut on plastic as well. Plus I like washing boards used for raw meats etc in the dishwasher (but would never wash wooden boards there). Otherwise that's the only plastic I use.

                1 Reply
                1. re: janniecooks

                  ""Never use plastic of any sort in the microwave..."

                  I agree!!!

                  It also appears that manufacturers fail miserably to make plastics truly microwavable.