Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Food, Think! Forum Table of Contents

March 2011
Re-Defining the Terms (Sustainability)
April 2011
Farmers, Fight! (Border Violence)
…Determined to Succeed! (Challenges and triumphs for the Ag industry)
Unacceptable. (Animal Abuse)
May 2011
June 2011
Vive La RĂ©sistance? (Antibiotic use in animal agriculture)
July 2011
Doubtful Dining (A critique of modern food industry critics)
Hard to Swallow (A critique of industry animal welfare)
Meat Eaters, Misguided (A critique of Meat Eaters Guide to Climate Change & Health)
August 2011
Flour or Corn Tortillas? (A comparison of crops)
September 2011
October 2011
November 2011
December 2011
Because My Baby Likes It (Habits of American Consumers)
January 2012
Subsidize Me (Crop subsidies)
February 2012
Chipotle’s Simple Story (A facts-check of a Chipotle commercial)
March 2012
Wasted. (Food Waste)
April 2012
Beef for my heart and chili for my soul (Chili recipe and new BOLD study)
May 2012
The Real “Dirty Dozen” Deal (Evaluation of produce and pesticides)
June 2012
When it’s just not true (Falsification of GMO evidence)
July 2012
Hazards in the Household #2: Plastics
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Friday, July 13, 2012

Hazards in the Household #2: Plastics

Something else that scares me is a warm plastic water bottle that has baked all day in a summer-heated car-oven. You may have also heard from ominous emails, Care 2 Make a Difference  and HealthyChild.org that certain plastics (especially when heated) can put you and your family at risk for cancer.

I found the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide to be very informative. When plastic is heated, potentially dangerous chemicals used in plastic manufacturing called plasticizers can leak out into food. The more thin and flimsy these are (i.e., cellophane wrap), the more plasticizers they contain. Because they are soluble in fats and oils, they especially leach into foods that contain a lot of fat. 

The HMS Guide describes FDA’s “Microwave – Safe” approval process:
“For microwave approval, the agency estimates the ratio of plastic surface area to food, how long the container is likely to be in the microwave, how often a person is likely to eat from the container, and how hot the food can be expected to get during microwaving. The scientists then measure the chemicals that leach out and the extent to which they migrate to different kinds of foods. The maximum allowable amount is 100–1,000 times less per pound of body weight than the amount shown to harm laboratory animals over a lifetime of use. Only containers that pass this test can display a microwave-safe icon, the words “microwave safe,” or words to the effect that they’re approved for use in microwave ovens.”

Here are some more great HMS pointers:
  • Most takeout containers, water bottles, and plastic tubs or jars made to hold margarine, yogurt, whipped topping, and foods such as cream cheese, mayonnaise, and mustard are not microwave-safe.
  • Microwavable takeout dinner trays are formulated for one-time use only and will say so on the package.
  • Don’t microwave plastic storage bags or plastic bags from the grocery store.
  • Before microwaving food, be sure to vent the container: Leave the lid ajar, or lift the edge of the cover.
  •  Don’t allow plastic wrap to touch food during microwaving because it may melt. Wax paper, kitchen parchment paper, or white paper towels are alternatives.
  • If you’re concerned about plastic wraps or containers in the microwave, transfer food to glass or ceramic containers labeled for microwave oven use.
Polycarbonate Plastics (i.e. Nalgene bottles)
There is an entire organization and website dedicated to BPA research and public information. It states: “Researchers from government agencies, academia, and industry worldwide have studied the potential for bisphenol A (BPA) to migrate from polycarbonate products into foods and beverages. These studies consistently show that the potential migration of BPA into food is extremely low, generally less than 5 parts per billion under conditions typical for uses of polycarbonate products. At this level, a consumer would have to ingest more than 1,300 pounds of food and beverages in contact with polycarbonate every day for an entire lifetime to exceed the safe level of BPA set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Consequently, human exposure to BPA from polycarbonate plastics is minimal and poses no known health risk.”

The Nalgene website includes further information if you are curious. 

PETE / PET (chasing arrows # 1; common for water bottles)
This review of recent findings suggest that endocrine disruptors (estrogen-like compounds suspected to trigger cancer growth) may leach into water and food contained by PET plastic bottles. Its conclusion is inconclusive … the jury is still out on this one. The hot Ozarka in my car? Still scary. I’ll pour it out for my plants. 

Plastics and the Microwave
The Plastics board produces this informative website and states: “There are many different types of plastics. The best bet on plastic packaging is if it is labeled “Microwave Safe”, then it will not leach unsafe chemicals into your food when microwaved or heated. Although it might be helpful to know a little about different plastics, PET plastic is one that can be either appropriate or inappropriate for the microwave depending on how it was manufactured. Plastic is not heated at all by microwaves, but rather by the hot food it comes in contact with. As long as a plastic cover or wrapping is not touching the food being heated, your food will be safe.” 

It also looks like the creepy Johns Hopkins email about dioxins in plastic containers is baloney. Here’s an excerpt from the FAQs: 

I got an e-mail from Johns Hopkins alleging that microwaving food in plastic containers releases dioxin. Is this true?
No. This is an e-mail hoax that has been circulating the Internet for years. Dioxins are a group of compounds that can be produced by combustion at very high temperatures. The vast majority of plastics used in food wraps and packaging do not contain the chemical constituents needed to form dioxins. And dioxins form at very high temperatures, typically above 700 degrees Fahrenheit — much higher than the temperatures that would be generated by microwave cooking. You also may hear claims that using plastic containers in the freezer can “release” dioxins — which is also untrue. According to the FDA, which regulates food packaging, “With regard to dioxins, we have seen no evidence that plastic containers or films contain dioxins and know of no reason why they would.”
The e-mail and its alleged ties to Johns Hopkins University or Walter Reed Army Medical Center (depending on which version you receive) are part of the hoax, and both organizations have publicly disavowed the claims.”

A final quick update on foodborne carcinogens I found…to get more facts on overcooked meat and potential carcinogens, read the Addendum at the end of the post “Red Meat and Cancer: Not Guilty”.

I probably won't heat any plastics unless they're labeled "Microwave Safe." What do you Think?

Hazards in the Household #1: Cleaners

I’ll be honest, my kitchen sink cabinet scares me (rubber gloves help me conquer those fears). Besides dishwashing soaps, I keep Clorox Green Works all-purpose spray (not scary – “natural”, slight eye/skin irritant), Pine Sol (not scary – “natural” again), Lysol 4 in 1 all-purpose cleaner (scary…but my husband insists on it for his medical work), OFF! Bugspray (scary), and Windex (very scary) down there. Heard of BabyGanics? They are not required to list their ingredients, but from what I've been able to find it's the same stuff as Clorox Green Works (surfactants made of palm kernel, coconut, and corn). Ironically, Clorox took all the chlorine out of its product line, but I use their creepy blue toilet bowl wands. Anti-perspirant and baking powder, both aluminum-containing products, lurk around my home as well. I’m just glad I don’t have a pool so I don’t have to mess with any chlorine. 

The facts are that the FDA prohibits household cleaners from carrying known carcinogens. However, their substances are still known to potentially damage the body. FYI, here is a comprehensive listing of known and probable human carcinogens from the American Cancer Society in case you ever want to explore the ingredients list on any of your cleaning products.
My mom used to ban things like cereal with food coloring because she knew some dyes can be carcinogenic. Today (and maybe then) dyes that are carcinogenic have been banned from textile and food use. These include Acid Red 26, Direct Blue 6, Direct Black 38 and Direct Red 28 with negative ionization mode, Basic Red 9, Basic Violet 14, Disperse Blue 1, Disperse Orange 11 and Disperse Yellow 3. 

We’ll take a look now at all of our culprits. I found the U.S.D.H.S.S.Household Products Database to be very helpful. 
Windex Original
Windex packaging comes with warnings about breathing, ingestion, eye, and skin contact.

It contains:   
  •  Cocamidopropyl betaine (a surfactant derived from cononut oil, may cause allergies )
  • Ammonium hydroxide. A healthy liver manages ammonia exposure by converting it into harmless compounds like urea (excreted in urine) and helpful compounds like amino acids (for building bodily proteins). However, people with liver damage such as cirrhosis do this less effectively, and ammonia can cause Hepatic Encephalopathy, or as my major professor used to say, “fry the brain.” The brain cells, or astrocytes, when exposed to ammonia can behave like an Alzheimer’s patient’s brain cells: they become swollen and dysfunctional, their genetic material can become corrupt, and finally fluid can enter and accumulate in the brain to further impair it. Ammonia exposure can occur both from the external and internal environments: external, from using ammoniated products, and internal, from consuming a high-protein diet without adequate fiber. (See "Eat Your Vegetables!"). This should only be a concern if you have a liver that does not function normally...in fact, you can probably get just as much ammonia exposure by changing diapers.
  •  Monoethanolamine (MEA). Inhaling MEA can cause respiratory allergic reactions, skin irritation, and even liver damage (Christian M, ed; J American College of Toxicology 2 (7): 183-226 (1983)and Gillner M et al; Nord 29: 49-73 (1993)).  

OFF! Deep Woods 
  •  OFF! is shockingly flammable! The four other ingredients besides DEET are Ethanol, Isobutane, Butane, Propane, all liquid fuels. DEET, or N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, can inhibit an important central nervous system enzyme called acetylcholinesterase. This enzyme controls neuron transmissions that in turn control muscles. DEET exposure, therefore, has been shown in laboratory studies to lead to paralysis and suffocation. DEET is so effective because it paralyzes olfactory (smelling) nerves in insects so they are “blind” to you and don’t bite (Corbel et al., 2009).  

Aluminum and Alzheimer’s Disease
Research findings in the 1960s allegedly linked aluminum exposure to Alzheimer’s patients, but the findings have never been replicated. This connection is now largely refuted within the medical/scientific communities. See Aluminum reports from UK Alzheimer’s Society and

Lysol 4 in  1 All-Purpose Cleaner 
According to the labeled warnings, this product will likely burn eyes if and may cause an upset stomach if ingested. It contains:
  • Alchohol Ethyloxylate (an alchohol)
  • Benzalkonium Chloride. While not listed as carcinogenic, this biocide and surfactant is toxic to fish and slightly toxic to wildlife and humans. In small doses it irritates skin and gastrointestinal linings ... possibly by killing these cells, being a nondiscriminant biocide.  
  • Yellow Dye
Clorox Disinfecting Toilet Wand Refills contain:

Chlorine-containing bleaches and pool treatments have:
  • Chlorate
  • Sodium hypochlorite
Chlorine can form Hydrochloric acid (HCl) when it is inhaled or touched. This can cause anywhere from mild irritation to burns on the skin and can permanently damage lungs. It disinfects by oxidizing (stripping electrons from) bacterial cell membranes and killing them, and also by forming hypochlorous acid (OHCl). It bleaches by oxidizing pigments. 

I think I can live at ease with all my products except Lysol, Windex, and OFF! I can do without the ammonia, environmental toxins, and DEET since there are other cleaning and insect repellent alternatives (unless I travel to a malaria zone). 

What do you Think?