‘BPA-free’ is not enough: Charlotte pediatrician on the need to rid your home of plastics

Good Question: What are safe alternatives to plastic products?

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Tupperware, water bottles... chances are you have a lot of plastic storage containers in your kitchen right now. It’s easy and economical. But did you know plastics can be seriously hazardous to your health? Even the ones that are BPA-free.

The reason plastics can be so hazardous for our health is because of what happens when they’re heated up.

“When plastics have been heated they start to break down little by little and they start to release more of those harmful chemicals in food. So, dishwashing, microwaving - those can definitely be damaging so you want to stay away from that,” said Dr. Rachel Fournet, a pediatrician with Novant Health.

While B-PA has been taken out of many plastics due to consumer demand, it has been routinely replaced with B-P-S, which experts say may be even more toxic. Studies show that it's now found in 81 percent of blood tested and that it can lead to ailments such as diabetes, obesity, asthma, birth defects and cancer.

“Just because something is labeled BPA-free doesn’t mean it’s safe,” Dr. Fournet said.

It's why she took a hard look at her own home and decided to ditch the plastic.

“I kind of did a sweep of my house and I realized how did all this plastic get in here?” she recalled. “I’ve always tried to be cognizant of it. And yet I looked around and all my kids plates and the kids cups and our old mixing bowls and sauteeing spoons and all of that was plastic."

Dr. Fournet did a complete overhaul but said, “not all at once because that's expensive. So what I did was anything that was really beat up and needed to be replaced anyway - I would just research that one item and say, ‘what's a better alternative and what's a cost effective alternative’”

Her first find? Switching to bamboo for her two young daughters’ plates, bowls and silverware.

“I’ve had them for about a year now, these get daily use,” she pointed. “And they are still in really good condition. The one caveat is that you can’t put them in the dishwasher or microwave.”

But she insists the health benefits of this far outweigh a perceived inconvenience.

“Absolutely [because] even when the plastics say BPA-free, we’re finding out now that’s not enough,” she said. “So that’s only one harmful chemical that isn’t in that plastic but it doesn’t account for thousands of other harmful chemicals.”

Not only that - Dr. Fournet says when plastics have been heated they start to break down little by little and begin to release more of those harmful chemicals in food. Even dishwashing and microwaving put you at risk. That’s why she also turned to silicone products.

“This is also a year old and it’s really stayed in really good condition,” she said. “Other silicone things I found - this from Munchkin brand -- I got it from Target. It’s a snack cup. They have a very popular plastic version but I found this one online and so it’s made of steel for the cup and these little lips are silicone. The food never touches this little plastic handle where the hands go."

Dr. Fournet also found an alternative to plastic sandwich baggies who pointed out, “especially with little kids, I was constantly putting things in Ziploc bags. And we would go through, you know, hundreds. And so I did a bunch of research on silicone reusable bags.”

Doctor urges you to ditch the plastics

She showed me two different types including one that has “kind of a more traditional open, close like a Ziploc bag” but admitted they aren’t as economical.

“These do run a bit more costlier but there’s supposed to hold up for decades,” she said. “And, so far aside from some water spots they’ve held up really well.”

The second one the longtime pediatrician showed was much cheaper.

“It actually opens up at the bottom and so this - you can put soups in or something liquid and it stands on its own,” she demonstrated. “This one has a completely airtight seal so it will not drip. So you can have it upside down, shake it and nothing's going to come out of it.”

And, she made the switch when it came to cookware, too.Dr. Fournet made the switch when it came to her family’s cookware, too.

“The containers that you use for leftovers to bring your food to work, those traditionally were all the plastic Pyrex -- so doing the glass instead,” she advised. “The only caveat is the lid is plastic. Usually that doesn’t touch the food and my only recommendation is take it off when you microwave. It does my work bag a little heavier but I’ve had these for several years, I’ve never broken a single one.”

Dr. Fournet also switched to stainless still mixing bowls.

“My mixing bowls used to be plastic,” she said. These are nice because they have the silicone handle….and then they stack. I think these were 20 bucks for a set of three on Amazon.”

Her cooking utensils changed, too. All of them have silicone coating which she said, “means it's safe when you're putting it in a really hot dish, it's OK. Silicone has an incredibly high melt temperature. That's why things are considered oven-safe when they're silicone.”

However, her last find – water bottles -- took a lot more research.

“Kids drinking cups are all plastic,” she said. “The spout they put their mouth in. The actual container that holds the water. These are 100 percent silicone and stainless steel.”

She showed me two from Pura and pointed out, “they have the different spout. So you can choose if you want to do the more drinking spout for my 18 month old and that's call the sports cap and that's for my four year-old.

Dr. Fournet also pointed out if cost is a concern there’s one area to focus on first.

“The things that touch food for the longest amount of time or are going to be heated up would be the most important ones to change to a silicone, a glass or even a bamboo option,” she recommended.

A few other things to remember: One, research has shown acidic food in general just touching* plastic is enough of a chemical reaction to get those harmful chemicals into your food. Foods like, pizza, marinara sauce and organges.

Two, there are safer choices when it comes to plastic storage containers. If look at the bottom of your plastic food storage containers and they have a #2, #4 or #5, those are generally recognized as safe for food and drink. But even when you use the safer plastics, don’t store any acidic or greasy foods in them.

However, if any of your containers have a #3, #6 or #7 -- get rid of those! They’re considered high-risk plastics.

Finally, be sure to throw out any plastic containers that are scratched up, badly worn or are cloudy. And, don’t use any plastic containers in the microwave or dishwasher for improved safety.

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