New research claims that phthalates are associated with an increase in blood pressure or insulin resistance in some adolescents and the study’s author is telling people to avoid microwaving plastic containers and use recycling symbols as a way to avoid phthalates. These studies and the claims made by their author are extremely misleading because:
- Phthalates are among the most thoroughly studied family of chemicals, and government regulatory bodies support the safety of phthalates for consumer uses.
- Many plastics are made for microwave use; look for this symbol to know whether plastic is ok for the microwave or not.
- Food packaging is reviewed for safety by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and this stringent safety review is done before new materials are allowed on the market.
- Most plastic food packaging and storage items are made with other types of plastics and do not require softening agents like phthalates.
Other myths about phthalates and food containers are also causing unnecessary concern and confusion.
Myth: Phthalates are unsafe.
In reality, government scientific agencies and regulatory bodies worldwide have supported the safety of phthalates in commercial products. And, a great quantity of research has been conducted on phthalates by universities, government agencies, manufacturers and independent laboratories. This research indicates that phthalates break down into metabolites within minutes after entering the body. And, information collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the last 10 years indicates that exposure from all sources combined is extremely low—much lower than the levels established as safe by scientists at regulatory agencies.
Myth: Phthalates cause increased blood pressure and insulin resistance in children.
In reality, at most, the two recent studies cited by this author show an association, not a causal relationship. Furthermore, the studies fail to show that exposure to phthalates causes any particular effect, and the purported statistical correlation wasn’t even particularly strong. The authors themselves say that more studies are needed to confirm these alleged associations.
Myth: DINP and DIDP are new replacements for DEHP.
In reality, DINP and DIDP have developed a very strong safety profile during the 50 years in which they have been in use. Government regulatory bodies support the safety of phthalates for current consumer uses.
Myth: Plastics in food containers aren’t reviewed for safety before they are sold or used in consumer products.
In reality, any material that is intended for food contact is reviewed for safety by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and this stringent safety review is done before new materials are allowed on the market.
Myth: People can be exposed to phthalates through plastic food wraps and containers.
In reality, phthalates aren’t used in those materials; and, food packaging like takeout containers is not “coated” with phthalates, as was inaccurately stated in some reporting.
Myth: You shouldn’t microwave or put plastic food containers in the dishwasher because the high heat makes the chemicals leach.
FDA evaluates food contact materials for safety before those materials are approved. And FDA food contact approval for plastics specifically considers conditions of use—namely, high heat conditions and microwaving, and dishwashing in a dishwasher. The FDA says that consumers can be confident as they heat “meals or leftovers in the microwave that the FDA carefully reviews the substances used to make plastics designed for food use. These include microwave-safe plastic coverings that keep food from splattering and microwave-safe containers that hold frozen dinners.”
Myth: The recycling symbol on a plastic can tell you whether a plastic is safe or not.
In reality, this symbol was created to help recyclers sort different types of plastics; it is not intended to provide guidance on safe or recommended uses. Many plastic food containers are also marked “microwave safe,” which identifies whether a plastic item is suited for use in the microwave oven. Many types of plastics are used in food containers and packaging, and all of them are reviewed and approved as safe by FDA.
» More information on the FDA Safety Assessment of Food Contact Materials
» More information about the FDA Food Contact Notification Process