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Monday, February 8, 2010

Plastic in my food :(

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

We all love our modern conveniences, and plastic is one of them. But our world is also getting more toxic for us, because of our modern way of life. Most of us have been affected by cancer, if not personally, probably a loved one, or dear friend has battled the disease. My brother died of cancer 20 years ago, this past December. His long illness, made me rethink my life.

At that time, I was trying to make a decision whether or not to expand my ornamental nursery work on our farm. I was having second thoughts because of the chemicals required - my brother's illness, and ensuing death put the nail in the coffin of my nursery business, literally.

I was free of uncertainty, and vowed to come clean in areas that I had a choice in. Food was a big one. I ramped up my garden production and preservation. What I didn't can, I froze in plastic freezer bags and containers. I had no idea that plastic wasn't ideal for food storage. It is handy, convenient and fairly inexpensive, if you don't count the replacement cost and throw away aspect of it.


Several years ago, I had another wake-up call. A uterine fibroid run amok. I lost a lot of blood, had to be hospitalized for a blood transfusion and day surgery to remove the fibroid. I was lucky, I still have all my plumbing. My doctor quizzed me about my diet and how much plastic I used, and how I cooked. I scored points for no microwave, but failed miserably on food in stored in plastic. She went on to explain she understood the convenience of plastic, but that xenoestrogens (chemicals that act as estrogen mimickers) are thought to be the main culprit in the formation of fibroids and other types of reproductive organ maladies in both sexes. Xenoestrogens are a by-product of the chemical industry. Fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, plastic, and common household products are all contributors. We are bombarded daily. Even canning lids have BPA in them to protect the metal from leaching.

I understand the convenience of seal-a-meals and freezer bags and containers. But I also think this is place where I can personally make some changes for my health, and my daughters reproductive health. The answer was right under my nose really, in my old canning books, and on every box of canning jars. FOR CANNING AND FREEZING. I just needed to look. I already froze my butter in pint jars. Plastics are a huge marketing coup for the oil industry. And I was raised in the 60's when convenience for the homemaker was the ultimate. I have to admit, plastic is very useful. Change is hard. But, with so many factors in our lives out of control these days, this is one thing I can control.


As with any changeover, it takes time. Foods with fat cause the most leaching because of the interaction of fatty foods with the plastic, so that would be a good place to start. The rest will fall into place.

All but four of the jars in the photo above came from the freezer, it is still a work in progress.

40 comments:

Tree Huggin Momma said...

But what about the BPA in the lids? I like you like to use glass jars, and buy as much in glass as I can and then save the glass, but alas I cannot get my organic milk in glass just "I promise this milk is hormone free" from a large conglamerate of local farmers in glass jars (and at 2x the cost, which I cannot presently afford). My local milk, butter cheese guy, everything is in plastic. I have a lead on herd sharing (which would allow me to get my milk in glass, but would cost me more and I have to drive 1.5 hours round trip every week to get it. There is a gentleman locally who already does this so I am going to see if I can strike a deal with him. I would pay the higher cost, but I have to make the trip out to the farm at least once, to check out the stock and the owner.
I grew up on raw milk because my GF was a farmer and when he sold his farm, we lived down the road from a local dairy farm, I would go up and help out, work that would make most people nominate my parents for abuse these days ;) and we would get our milk raw in our glass containers for well below cost. Same with our eggs, Aggie was on the way to the chicken farm and I would help her collect eggs, and pluck chickens and she would give us eggs in exchange. I miss that kind of community and it and the wide open spaces are my only temptation to give up my city life (when my girls are grown and I retire).

Long comment and off topic. But at any rate, I recall my Oma (off the boat German) canning with beeswax - so this is something I am trying to get more info on. I have access to a steam canner (which is what my family used for generations) and what I will use when I start canning. I love reading the book (which is extremely old and about to go digital in order to preserve it). It has tips on canning anything and everything. I can also use the steam oven (which looks like a large metal cabinet on a stove, or over a campfire (keey for summer time canning - do it out of doors :)

d.a. said...

@Tree Huggin Momma: I've discovered that Tattler re-usable canning lids have no BPA (altho the lid topper is still plastic). Just wrote an article about it on my blog. Nope, I'm not a representative for Tattler :-)

localnourishment said...

AARGH! It's everywhere! It's like swimming upstream. The harder I work to get plastic out of my life, the more I find. I tossed the plastic food storage to find BPA in canning lids (I don't worry about that, the food rarely touches the lids). I tossed the safe plastic drinking cups and found our city uses plastic water pipes. I purchased an under-sink water filtration system before I knew about the dangers of plastic, and the entire thing is plastic. I would transfer my raw, fresh milk into glass once I get it home, if I could only find glass half gallon jars!

I have four daughters and two sons. This estrogen-mimicry thing is important to me. I have an infertile sister and a mom with breast cancer. I know the dangers but it's so blood-pressure-raisingly frustrating to try to do anything about it.

The best I can do, I guess, is all I can do. Every time I reduce an exposure, it's a tally on the plus side. I need to function more on the plus side and try to ignore those exposures which are out of my control. But it's a crazy-making issue, for sure.

Hathor's Bath said...

This has been something I've been thinking about as I use a lot of plastic containers for storage, and also heat it up in the microwave (yeah, I know, I'm working on that). I've had many a friend with cancer over the past few years and it has really made me think. But I thought using glass in the freezer was not a very good thing either? How do you store things in glass in the freezer without it shattering?

Thankfully, you can still get milk in glass in the UK, and even though it's maybe not as great as other milk out there at least it's not stored in plastic.

Chris said...

I have gone plastic-free in most of my food storage, except the freezer. A while back you posted about the warning you found on a plastic container about fat leaching into plastic and that prompted some more changes for me. I stopped using those plastic boxes for freezer storage altogether. I still struggle with what to do with bulk quantities of frozen berries and vegetables, which I continue to freeze in bags. I could can corn, but I don't like canned beans and peas. And then there are the bags of bones--chicken backs and such--that I save for making big batches of stock to can. Still wondering how to freeze those...I guess I would wrap them in freezer paper, but that's got plastic, too, right? Do you freeze whole berries and such? If so, what do you do with them?

I'm psyched to learn about the Tattler lids! $10/dozen isn't cheap, but if they do last a lifetime, I suppose after 4 or 5 years, they'd have paid for themselves. I really like that they are reusable.

Lorna Jean said...

Speaking of plastic. . . does anyone know if the hard plastic 3-5 gallon water bottles have BPA? We live in the desert and need to buy bottled water (the tap water is desalinated and not as safe as they say, so I'm told) but our only other options are bottled water-either lots of 1.5 liter bottles that are supposedly safe, but little to no opportunities to recycle, or the bigger reusable hard bottles (there are no numbers or other info on the bottles). Asking around here doesn't help much! Thanks for any info.

Elaine said...

I was also wondering how you safely freeze the jars.

Christina said...

Freezing in jars just requires a large headspace to leave room for the water expansion. As far as I know, water is the only thing that gets bigger when it freezes instead of smaller. So most foods aren't going to expand that much - fruits, chili, etc. I froze juice from my oranges and lemons to bring along on our holidays, and I just froze a sample jar first to make sure it wouldn't crack with the headspace I allowed.

The other nice thing about freezing in your canning jars is it gives you something to do with all the single-use lids once you pop them off a canned food. I mark my used ones with a bit of nail polish (though you can definitely see the imprint in the rubber as well).

Christina said...

How do you get away from plastic for bulk food storage?? I have all those 5gal buckets under my beds full of dried beans, grains, staples... I lined the bins with food storage bags, but mylar is a PET product. These are obviously all dry goods, so I can't imagine there's as much leaching, but still I'm sure there's some. They don't make 5gal glass containers that I know of, though I suppose metal is an option.

Hayden said...

I agree, cleaning up the kitchen is a frustrating process. A few years ago it was get rid of all of the alumininum pans and the non-stick, no matter how pristine.

A couple years ago I dumped all of my plastic containers and replaced them with "safer" ones. Now those are dwindling in number and I need to replace with glass.

I finally dumped the microwave 2 months ago, after reading a report that Stanford Children's Hospital mandates that the microwave not be used for warming formula. That was such a blatant wake-up call that I could no longer be confused by the ongoing dialogue.

I'm frustrated, but I figure each step is a positive one that brings me closer to clean food, and that's the best I can do. Perfection is for angels.

btw, I'm REALLY impressed with your doctor. And shocked.

Hathor's Bath said...

Christina, what you can do is haunt a restaurant and get the huge glass jars they keep their pickles in; in the UK, there's massive chutney jars and I managed to get a few of those from a local deli. They may be rare to find now as it seems everyone is packaging in plastic these days, but I have quite a few rather large jars where I keep all my chai-ingredients in.

Toria said...

Hayden, the warning against using a microwave for formula isn't because of any perceived idea that microwaves are dangerous, it is because of high possibility of uneven heating of the formula and scalding a baby with very hot patches of the milk.

I'm curious about the scientific studies to back up your doctor's claim. If the use of plastic containers causes fibroids so easily, why isn't it a major problem with all women? Sorry, you having a particular health problem that one person associated with your use of plastic doesn't constitute a scientific study.

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Tree Huggin Momma, what a great comment, so filled with memories! I grew up on raw milk too - and it was a shock to go to school and see milk in those little cartons :)

As for the BPA in the lids, I have to draw the line somewhere - so I will deal with it, the food doesn't touch the lid, so it isn't as bad as commercially canned food where the entire can is coated.

That would take a lot of beeswax - Although it would be reusable, once you obtained the original wax.

d.a. thanks for the link on the Tattler lids - definitely something worth looking into. Bummer it is more plastic though, I wish Ball would go back to the Kerr Economy style glass lids. Same idea just glass instead of plastic.

Peggy, I know, everywhere we turn it's something. The price we pay for an industrialized world. I am trying to concentrate on the things I can change and trying not to worry about the things I can't. My meat is stored in plastic, the alternative would be to can it, which turns out a delicious product, but maybe just a little too much high pressure cooking...sigh.

I know you can order the 1/2 gallon canning jars online - could a local store that sells canning jars order them for you, so you can save shipping?

Hathor's Bath, baby steps right?

Most foods I am freezing don't really expand - except my milk. So breakage is not a problem as long as you follow the headspace guidelines in the canning book.

The Ball Blue Book (US) has instructions for freezing in jars in the freezing section.

Chris, I am still freezing my berries in plastic, but am trying to wean myself off of that. Everything else except canned green beans (which is comfort food for me)gets the jar treatment. And the biggest thing is changing my eating habits from summer eating to seasonal eating. Most of our vegetables come from the garden or "root cellar" Instead of preserving only summer foods for winter consumption - we are eating winter foods in winter. Much less energy expended all the way around. Of course, it is peasant eating, but what the heck.

And I haven't come up with a good way to store my meats without plastic. I did cure my stock canning habit though by cooking each carcass as we eat it. That way I use it up and it doesn't get delegated to the basement storage area. As always a work in progress!

Lorna Jean, good question, since I live in a rain forest - I don't think much about packaged water. Hopefully someone will chime in!

Elaine, Christina answered your question quite well.

Christina, I laugh when I read some of the dates or inscriptions on my re-used lids. A lard label on peas makes me chuckle... I still have some lids I in my canning stockpile that do not have BPA. But they won't last forever.

As for the bucket storage - I hardly have anything in buckets anymore. We don't eat much grain, so I can store our beans, (I only got 35# from the garden this year)flour, etc in glass jars or crocks. I think you're right though, that the dry products wouldn't be as bad.

Hayden, well I'm no angel that's for sure, but each step in the right direction is like Peggy says a tally in the good column.

Funny thing that about the doctor - my regular doctor had just lost his license to practice :O, and I found her through a network of alternative doctors and midwives, even though she isn't an alternative practitioner, just a sensible doctor who doesn't believe hysterectomy is the first line of defense!

Hathor's Bath said...

Toria, a simple google search would have answered that easily enough:

http://www.infertilityworkshop.com/articles/hormonalhealth/xenoestrogen.htm

http://www.fwhc.org/health/xeno.htm

It's rather alarming; but the reason that not every woman is affected is pretty much the same as why some women get cancer and die, some get cancer and live, and some don't get cancer at all. Genetics is varied, and some people are more prone than others. It doesn't mean we shouldn't try and safeguard ourselves if we can.

thesimplepoppy said...

Lorna Jean, I can't be sure, but I had those bottles too and stopped using them because I read somewhere that for plastic to be that hard it has BPA in it. That was a few years ago though, and of course I can't remember where I read it. I have two girls and it was enough of a chance for me to just forget it.

Great topic. I really love the weck canning jars, but they are extremely expensive and you have to have them shipped. If you ever need large jars for pouring liquid like milk into, most home brewing stores have one gallon glass jars and you save on shipping.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I'm just starting out on this quest for a healthier and more self-sustaining life and I'm really excited and a little overwhelmed about all the plastic, too! I ,too, have reproductive issues (fibroids, adenomyiosis, and varicose veins on the uterus) and recently had a cancer scare...it was a wake-up call for me. The funny thing is, once I started researching fibroids, I came to realize that it is considered "common" now...that most women have them. It also didn't take much research to find that diet is commomly cited as a factor and that changing your diet is one of the first recommendations.
About the canning jars...I live in Puyallup, WA...a farming community. I was able to buy 1/2 gallon and gallon sized glass jars with metal lids at one of the local farm stands this past summer (Duris Farms off River Road). I use them for freezer storage, dry storage (flours, beans, etc)and I think they may be used for canning, but not sure. I will be purchasing more this spring, so will ask if they can be used for canning. I also have 10 vintage/antique crocks of varying sizes for larger quantities.
I am blessed to live on a small farm, and will be growing a garden this year and learning to keep my own seeds for next year. Also, we have a root cellar under the barn that I've never used and need to learn how to keep fruits and veggies there. We have our own chickens and hope to have a cow or two soon.
I have just found your blog and appreciate it...THANKS!!! Debbie

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Toria, why so angry about people maybe changing the way they store their food? Most studies are funded by the companies that sell the products and much is at stake when bad press shows up.

And speaking of studies there are many that have found microwaving food changes the molecular structure of food even more than standard cooking methods, and not in a good way.

Luckily we can still make choices on how we cook and store our food.

Thesimplepoppy, I love the Weck jars too, but yes, they are very expensive. Maybe someone in the states will get on the bandwagon and at least the shipping wouldn't be so bad.

Debbie, hey you're in my neck of the woods! Check out my personal blog about gardening in the Pacific Northwest. Most of the varieties I grow would work well at your location.

Thanks for stopping by. :)

Nancy-Jane said...

I make soup for the freezer and use plastic containers. After reading this article I think I would like to switch to jars. I have never really done any canning so I am wondering what I would have to do as far as safety goes in freezing the soup. Do I pour it in the jars once it has cooled a little bit, then wait until it is a little cooler, leave an airspace at the top then put the cap on? Once I remove the cap can it be reused? Sorry to be so ignorant...but I would like to do it correctly. Also, do I have to sterilze the bottles and caps?

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Nancy-June, all good questions :) Cool your soup completely before freezing, the quality will be better since it will freeze faster. Leave at least a 1/2 inch headspace to allow for some expansion, and if you are purchasing jars, look for the tapered jars labeled can or freeze. All the canning jars will work fine, the only difference being jars that aren't tapered would require more headspace to allow for the expansion of the liquids.

You don't need to sterilize the lids, just make sure everything is really clean. If you were canning though, instead of freezing then you would need to sterilize the lids. And yes the lids can be re-used.

thesimplepoppy said...

I just remembered that there are other glass lid canning jars besides Weck, Le Parfait and Bormioli Rocco. This probably doesn't help if you've already got tons of jars, but if you're building your supply and have the money, these are good. They're on sale right now at Overstock.com and their shipping is always 2.95.

Julia said...

I second the comment re: Weck jars. I just started building my collection (slowly) and I adore them. BPA free AND beautiful! :)

d.a. said...

I've read that Weck jars are only good for water-bath canning, and are not appropriate for pressure-canning. Anyone have experience elsewise? I do a lot of pressure-canning (soup stock, meat based sauces & soups, etc.) and would be thrilled with a glass lid alternative.

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omelay said...

We are also eliminating plastic as much as we can.

Re: BPA in flats. I am hoping they will soon cave to pressure and remove the BPA (as many manufacturers are doing- new studies every month!), but until then we use them, because it is our best option.

WECK, while beautiful, are not acceptable for pressure canning, and are unspeakably expensive. check the size of those jars before you compare!

the Tattler lids look very very shady to me. All plastic? How is that better? They call them USDA and FDA approved. Bpa is also on the list of approved items.

our main issue with plastic is freezing. If we get our slaughtered animals back they are either in plastic or plastic lined butcher paper . If we do it ourselves we also use plastic, usually "food grade" poultry bags. We could migrate to all-canning, but I kind of like a whole roasted chicken... so hard to change our ways, isn't it?

We do not use store canned food, which is the biggest culprit. the entire can is lined with BPA and the food is cooked within.

When it comes to bulk storage, we store BULK. As in, 50 pounds of an item. So we do use "food grade" buckets with gamma lids, a one-time purchase that should last forever. We keep the food in its paper bags so it does not come in contact with the bucket.

It is a slow migration.


tabitha

Tree Huggin Momma said...

I freeze lots in glass and only shattered 1 jar. I thought I left enough space and the lid loose, but is wasn't enough. So when I freeze in glass its a three step process. Into the glass (if its hot it goes in the cooler with jugs of ice) then into the freezer, when frozen I add the lid.

Pamela said...

Must take lots of freezer room.

Anonymous said...

Do you think companies like Kerr and Ball would cave under pressure if we all wrote complaints asking for jar flats that were not coated with plastic??? It just scares me. My dad died of pancreatic cancer 3 years ago and I just want to be more careful of what we eat and expose ourselves to. Kristina

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Tabitha, it is hard to change, I would not want to give up my roasted chicken for canned chicken. Or any of our other meats for that matter.

Pamela, it doesn't seem to take up much more room than the plastic bags, I save the flats the jars come in, or use boxes that the jars fit tightly in and it seems much neater than when I use the bags and plastic boxes, at least that has been my experience.

Kristina, sorry about your dad. Ball is huge, and they bought out Kerr. But it is worth a try.

Here is a link to one of their sites, and it shows just how diversified their operation is:
http://www.ballsteeltinusa.com/heritage.aspx

Hathor's Bath said...

I've considered dehydrating foods rather than freezing them, and storing them in sacks...but then there's the dust factor. Beeswax is very expensive, and most people started using parrafin for canning, but parrafin is an oil derivative, and I doubt it's any better to be eating anything in contact with THAT, any more than this nasty plastic stuff.

I suppose one does as much as one can, really. A thought-provoking post, all told.

eatclosetohome said...

You can buy half-gallon milk bottles online, for example, at http://www.localamishfarms.com/glass_milk_bottles_for_sale.htm

I can buy milk in glass bottles. I pay a $1.25 deposit for each one. Can I just keep them and let them keep the deposit?

Bruce King said...

Hathors bath: One thing that you need to guard against when saying things like "a simple google search will..." is that what exists on the web is, well, unreliable. Anyone can publish a web page, anyone can claim to have a study that shows any result they care to push, and even studies that are done are sometimes sponsored by companies with a particular agenda.
A peer-reviewed paper or study that is published in an industry journal can even be spoofed.
Random links from random sources aren't "proof" in any sense of the word to validate or invalidate a particular point.

Any industry that is causing a huge impact on any population will eventually attract tort suits, as asbestos has, for instance. You've got to ask yourself why some clever lawyer hasn't sued the plastics industry for billions yet. It's happened with groundwater contamination (Erin Brokovitch, anyone?) asbestos, auto gas tanks (remember the pinto?) unsafe cars (Ralph Nader became famous for the corvair) and so on.

Christina said...

@Bruce King

For some of those things it took decades before some "clever lawyer" decided to take the charge, and I'm sure every step of those decades was characterized by voices in the wilderness pointing the way to the truth. Just consider us getting in on the ground floor.

Leigh said...

Interesting discussion.

I too have been trying to get away from plastics and tried (only once) to freeze some broth in a couple of canning jars. I left plenty of headroom and used no lid, "just in case." Still broke. I need to read that info in Ball's Blue Book.

Regarding microwaving foods, this article - The Proven Dangers of Microwave Ovens" is a good starting point for information. The problem is broader than just infant formula.

Bruce King said...

Leigh, the article you post a link to claims that the NAZIs invented the microwave oven, and has several other factual errors in it; one of which is that microwaves change food in ways that other cooking methods do not, which is patently false. All cooking methods change the nutritional value of the food cooked. Canning food will typically reduce its nutritional value, for instance. Freezing will, too.

Dr. Percy Spencer invented the microwave oven after researching magnetron vacuum tubes in 1946. The first commercial units were't available until 1947.

When your quoted source gets a basic fact like this wrong, you've got to wonder what else they've played fast and loose with.

Allison said...

For those of us close to/in WA state there is a company in Seattle, WA that sells large glass containers. I have used them in the past for other containers (for my business) and they were really nice to work with. Its called Specialty Bottle. :) Though I wonder how crazy shipping would be on something big like that.

The Cherry Tree Farm said...

I found that I could special-order half-gallon Ball jars through my local hardware store (a small Ace store). I thought them reasonably priced, and I wasn't charged any shipping/handling.

Pertinent topic for me -- I have severe endometriosis, and I know xenoestrogens have been batted around as a cause for that, as well. It's a serious bummer, and I'm trying to find ways to improve my personal consumption of plastics accordingly.

Thanks -- enjoying your blog; new here from Down to Earth. kristin

Hathor's Bath said...

/tangent I didn't know Specialty Bottle came back into business! I used to work there; tell Uncle Fred hi! :)


And in response Bruce - honestly, if I waited for 100% scientific proof for anything and everything, I'd probably be better of waiting for Godot. Plastic is a problem, I know it's a problem, and people are suffering from it. That's all I need to know. Science can sit about and quibble on it for decades but by then it will be too late - even science gets things wrong, which is why this stuff gets released entirely too soon with nowhere near the amount of testing it really requires.

At least I didn't link to Wikipedia! There, I'd agree with you. However, when it's an independent study released in a scientific journal, I'm not going to argue with it, and xenos are a fact. I'm not going to take the time to argue the point and continue to risk my health, but instead focus on trying to be safe rather than sorry.

eatclosetohome said...

Lehman's sells canning lids in bulk quantities that do not have that film of plastic on the inside. It's a lot of lids, but no plastic and therefore no BPA!

Be Grim said...

Great thread! As I've been reading through all the comments, I can't help but think about how things were in the past, before plastic...it wasn't that long ago! Perhaps some research into how folks stored food back in the old days may help us out here...just a thought.

Kika said...

My mom passed down many glass gallon jars/metal lids; I think they mostly came from bulk items bought years before at Costco. I was able to get several more from our local Subway, if that helps anyone. At the time, all their pickles and hot peppers came in the jars.