Q&A: BPA and Plastics

  • August 8, 2012 8:18 am

Question:

Alexandra,
A friend just sent me a video of you talking about safety concerns about plastics and children. My wife and I are brand new parents. Our twins were born 6 weeks ago. We are using the Dr. Browns BPA-free bottles. My concern is we’ve been washing them in the dishwasher. I’m wondering about the possibility of substances (other than BPA) in the plastic leaching into the milk due to the heat in the dishwasher. Do you have any info on this? Where do you find your information? We’ve been reading a lot but haven’t seen any studies on possible dangers of BPA free plastics that are exposed to high temperatures. Do you think I should switch to glass or just start hand washing the plastic bottles I’ve got. Thanks for your help.

Best,
David

Answer:

Hi David,

Congrats on your new additions.

Watching that video of me talking about plastic, it should come as no surprise that I’m deeply wary of plastic for both environmental and health reasons and therefore fond of both shatterproof glass and/or stainless steel–especially for the early years and developmental moments. All plastics degrade when exposed to high temperatures. While the safety research has mainly been on BPA (plastic #7) and PVC/Vinyl (plastic #3), there are studies that have been done on what comes out of even the plastics that are considered safe by the scientific community, especially #1. Since you’re contending with twins, you might not be aware that the FDA recently finally banned BPA from baby bottles, though not from any other infant products (which is frustrating). There is no word on what manufacturers are supposed to be replacing BPA with, and if these chemicals are any safer than their banned predecessors. More reasons to avoid plastic….

Though there are great resources (like The Environmental Working Group) to turn to for information on plastic, staying on top of  the latest plastic safety details can be a full time job. This is another reason I prefer glass and stainless steel. You don’t have to keep on top of their safety.

Another bonus: If you are too tired to wash everything by hand, glass and stainless are your friends; both are fine in dishwasher. Keep in mind that any/all plastic you use should only ever go on the top rack of the dishwasher if you can’t hand wash.

Bottle issue solved, now get some sleep!

Best,

Alexandra

Q&A: Safe Ice Cube Trays

  • December 1, 2011 2:27 pm

THE QUESTION

Hi Alexandra,

My question is –  I wanted to get metal ice cube trays, the kind with a lever so you can easily get the cubes out (we don’t have an ice maker).  Online, I’ve found aluminum ones for $7 and stainless steel “BPA free” ones for $30.  Is aluminum bad for you?  Does it have BPA  in it?  Inquiring minds want to know.
Thanks,

Matt

THE ANSWER

Hi Matt,

A perfect question just in time for holiday cocktail season! And what a great idea to avoid plastic.

There should be no bisphenol-A in unlined aluminum ice cube trays (there has been, however, BPA in epoxy linings of aluminum reusable water bottles — the company SIGG got in hot water over this a few summers ago and has since changed the lining they use to something else that is also proprietary, if I’m remembering correctly).

The issues with aluminum are that it isn’t durable, it’s not great environmentally as it is energy intensive to extract from the earth (though the components of stainless steel aren’t exactly energy neutral either), and there have been lingering concerns over the years–largely unsubstantiated but enough to warrant multiple studies–re links to Alzhiemer’s disease.

The long and the short of it is that I prefer stainless. The price evens out as you will probably have to buy five rounds of aluminum trays before your stainless shows any wear and tear. I’m not sure if aluminum is recyclable where you live, but that’s also something to consider. Stainless also goes easily into the dishwasher without any rusting (a big issue with flimsier aluminum). What else can I say? I’m big on the Precautionary Principle — if the risks of aluminum are unsubstantiated, what’s 23 bucks to err on the side of caution? Stainless steel is considered very safe and won’t leach chemicals into your ice.

Hope this helps. And cheers!
Best,

Alexandra

Q&A: Safe Cookware

  • May 12, 2011 10:08 am

THE QUESTION

Hi Alexandra–I absolutely love The Complete Organic Pregnancy! My hubby and I are actively trying to get pregnant, and I’m using your book as our bible to help get my body and our home baby-ready.

I have a quick question about cookware–I own a set of Farberware that has etched on the bottom “aluminum clad stainless steel.” Does this mean the stainless steel is layered within the aluminum? Or vice versa? If it’s the former, I’m thinking I should replace it with a cast iron or stainless steel set.
Many thanks in advance for your help!

Wishing you joy,
Marcela

THE ANSWER

Hi Marcela,

Actively trying to get pregnant can be a, um, fun time! Thinking about cookware? Less fun. So, thanks for the great question. Safe cookware is so incredibly important and can be so complicated. Aluminum Clad Stainless Steel is a tricky thing. Do a little research and different sources (including manufacturers) say different things. It seems like Aluminum Clad should mean a layer of stainless steel between two layers of aluminum; a metal clad with something means covered by it. However, some sites describe Aluminum Clad Stainless Steel as the exact opposite: a layer of aluminum between two layers of stainless steel. Oof. I’m not hugely fond of aluminum as a cooking surface. And if it is coated with a nonstick layer, which happens not infrequently, I would toss it right in the trash. Like, pronto. Stainless steel, on the other hand, is a perfectly fine surface for your food to come into contact with.

The best advice I can offer you is to do what I would do: read the product information very carefully and call your manufacturer (Faberware, in this case) with any questions about what the surface material is. If you have any lingering doubt after speaking with them, just go for the good stuff.  Lodge Cookware is an affordable, tried and true, and reliable option. I have a friend who “recycled” her old cookware and now uses her aluminum/nonstick pasta pot as a training potty for her son. True story.

Here is an excerpt from an recent post about safety and cookware that explains why we have to choose cooking surfaces so carefully when outfitting our kitchen:

As I discuss in The Conscious Kitchen, until recently most non-stick cookware was made with a chemical that has been linked to cancer, infertility, and complications during pregnancy. This chemical—perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA—is so persistent it has been found in low levels in the blood of 98 percent of the general U.S. population. In 2005, DuPont settled with the EPA for $16.5 million for allegedly withholding PFOA health risk information. The EPA called on them and six other chemical companies to voluntarily eliminate PFOA and similar substances from plant emissions and products by 2015. In the kitchen, we’re exposed to it mainly through scratched pans, and these things scratch easily. They can also break down at high temperatures and the fumes can cause flu like symptoms in humans, and death in birds. Hello, canary in the coalmine.

There are new chemicals now being used to produce non-stick cookware as this phases out. The replacements are largely unknown, so their safety is also unknown. The safest thing to do is cook everything in tried and true durable materials: cast iron, enamel coated cast iron, and stainless steel.

What’s in your kitchen?