What does a Garden Gnome do when she is not gardening, in the kitchen or doing genealogy? Well the answer might just surprise you so read the entries to find out more. This blog focuses on everything we do to make our house a home. There will be a strong emphasis on home energy efficiency and do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. At the same time there will also be crafts, knitting and crocheting projects along with any other little tips we do to create that down to earth, I want to be here home. Please enjoy your visit :)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Unavoidable Plastic Food Packaging in the Kitchen

In an effort to reduce the amount of plastic used in the kitchen I have eliminated or reduced certain types of food storage containers.  This is a conscious decision one in which we can choose whether or not to use plastic.  The problem with plastic is that it is virtually impossible to avoid in the grocery store.  As manufactures strive to cut their cost of production and transporting the product they are turning to plastic.  The reasons for this include:

  • plastic is cheaper than glass or cans
  • plastic is more durable than glass, removes risk of breakage
  • plastic is lighter weight than glass or cans
Plastic is continuously coming into our homes whether or not we like it usually though the foods we buy.  Reducing what comes in via this method is possible and some plastic food packaging can be recycled.  Some of the sources of plastic in food packaging is quite obvious while in other cases it is not quite so obvious.  The important thing to note is that in the following cases the plastic is in direct contact with the food:
  • plastic wrap - Fresh meats, poultry, cured meats, lunch meats and cheeses are usually wrapped in some type of plastic packaging.  Compounding the problem is fresh meats often come on styrofoam trays wrapped in thin plastic wrap.   Ideally the plastic packaging has been vacuum sealed to keep the product fresh longer but that is not always the case.  Plastic wrap can be avoided in fresh meats and poultry by buying directly from the farmer or from a butcher shop.  It is possible to buy cheeses at a cheese factory that have not been wrapped in plastic but even there a large number of cheeses are wrapped in plastic.  Cured meats can be made at home or bought at a butcher shop to avoid plastic wrap.  Lunch meats can be eliminated entirely by slicing leftover roast, turkey breast, ham or meatloaf to use instead.  Another problem is buying at stores like Sam's Club quite often a food item is in a plastic container then 2 or more of these containers plastic wrapped together or things like canned tuna are shrink plastic wrapped together.  True you get the savings but you also get the plastic.
  • plastic clam shell containers -  Berries, some fruits, bean sprouts and some vegetables are often packaged in plastic clam shell containers.  Avoiding these horrid containers is easy by buying from the loose produce section, shopping the U-picks or farm markets and sprouting your own beans.
  • plastic tubs - Yogurt, sour cream, soft cream cheese, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, feta cheese, dips, deli foods (salads, etc.)  and ice cream all come packaged in plastic tubs.  Yogurt, sour cream and ricotta cheese are easily made at home and homemade is less expensive.  The only way to avoid the other products is to not use them.  For most people that is not an option.  Dried foods (eg. nuts, snacks, Parmesan cheese) in the bulk section of the grocery store are often packaged in plastic tubs.  However many of these products are also available in other containers like plastic pouches or cardboard containers so that is always an option.  If you shop at a bulk food store, foods like peanut butter, honey and pie filling are spooned into plastic tubs.  Here the only option is to not buy them but rather make your own pie filling and peanut butter.  Buy honey from a beekeeper where you can bring your own glass container.
  • plastic food bags - Thin plastic bags are available for produce in the grocery stores.  It is advisable to use these to prevent cross contamination of other food products and to prevent further contamination from surfaces like the conveyor belt at the check-out.  Many bakery (eg. breads, rolls, etc.) products are packaged in plastic bags.  These can be avoided by making your own bakery products.  If you shop in bulk food stores for dry foods like herbs, spices, flours and etc the only choice is to use their plastic bags to get your food home.  You can't use your own containers as they presents a health and safety as well as liability issue for the store.
  • plastic bottles - Most condiments come packaged in the popular plastic squeeze bottles.  However some are also available in glass jars so that is an option.   Another option is to make your own condiments at home.  Relish, ketchup and mustards are very easy to make at home and they are less expensive.   Juices and water also come in plastic bottles.  Buy a reusable water bottle and fill at home to eliminate buying pricey water in plastic bottles.  Eliminate the plastic bottle for juices by buying frozen juices and making them at home.  Frozen juices tend to be cheaper as well.
  • plastic pouches - Spices, dried herbs, nuts, baking supplies like chocolate chips all come packaged in plastic pouches.  Buy from a bulk food store instead where you will still use thin plastic bags but those bags can be recycled whereas the pouches can't.  Some fast food restaurants and sidewalk carts have condiments packaged in individual serving sized plastic pouches.  Avoid these entirely.
  • cans -  Many are under the mistaken impression that getting foods packaged in aluminum cans solves the plastic issue.  It doesn't and in many ways foods packaged in aluminum cans are worse because of the potential health risks.  Every food and beverage can used in North America has a plastic lining to prevent interaction with the food.  This is a FDA mandatory requirement.  The coating may be white so it is visible or it may be clear giving the impression there is no lining but it is there.  The problem with this plastic coating is it does cont Bis-phenol A (BPA) which means the food contains BPA due to the nature of the canning industry.  Heat and acidic conditions causes BPA to leach from the plastic.  Both of these conditions occur during the canning process.  Avoid buying any food or beverage packaged in a can and that includes carbonated beverages and beer.
  • glass jars - The BPA issue cannot be avoided by buying in glass jars or home canning as all metal lids also have the plastic coating containing BPA.  However, buying in glass or home canning greatly reduces food exposure to BPA.  It is very important when home canning to not invert the jar allowing the hot food to come into contact with the lid.  Once the food is cooled for both commercially jarred or home canned food the risk of BPA leaching into the food is gone.
Garden Gnome


Victor said...

It seems like plastic and BPA has headlined many news outlets recently. Just this morning, I read the article: http://shine.yahoo.com/event/loveyourbody/why-you-cant-lose-those-last-10-pounds-1964849/ on weightloss, but also targeted plastics. It's an interesting read!

Garden Gnome said...

Thanks for sharing this information Victor. I did find it quite interesting!