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Posted On: 14 October 2014 07:30 am
Updated On: 12 November 2020 02:14 pm

HMC Experts Caution Use of Plastic Food Containers

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Experts from Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) are advising residents to take precautions when using plastic containers for storing or heating food, in order to limit exposure to harmful chemicals that may leach from plastic containers into their food contents.

They instead suggested opting for glass (such as Pyrex) or metal containers whenever possible, and avoid heating or microwaving food in plastic containers even if the label says it is microwave-safe.

The experts cautioned that heating or storing hot food or drinks in plastic can increase the amount of chemicals transferred to the food, as well as when plastic touches fatty, salty or acidic foods. This may have negative health effects due to the migration of harmful chemicals from the plastic container to the food contents.

According to Senior Consultant in Public Health and Head of Smoking Cessation Program at HMC, Dr. Ahmad Al Mulla, most plastic types have been found to contaminate food with chemicals such as polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyethylene, polycarbonate and phthalates.

However, he said it is very difficult to avoid plastic food packaging nowadays as it is used for almost everything from water bottles to meat, dairy, bakery products and canned foods, as well as fast foods. Also in widespread use is non-stick cookware, which can release toxic chemicals particularly when cooking at very high temperatures.

HMC’s Chairman of Internal Medicine, Professor Abdul-Badi Abou-Samra, explained how harmful chemicals contained in plastic can impact one’s health.

“When ingested, these chemicals can disrupt the body’s endocrine (or hormone) system and can cause conditions such as asthma, cancer, birth defects, immune system suppression, and developmental and reproductive problems,” Prof. Abou-Samra said.

Dr. Al Mulla recommended eating more fresh foods and reducing consumption of processed or fast foods to reduce exposure to harmful chemicals. “Choosing fresh foods as part of a healthier diet will not only help you avoid harmful chemicals used in manufacturing plastic containers, but also the large amounts of sodium, fat and other unhealthy ingredients in processed or fast foods,” he said.

Dr. Al Mulla advised the public to be mindful when buying foods packaged in plastic and to take precautions to protect their health, such as the following:

  • Always check bottles and other plastic containers to minimize exposure to harmful chemicals. Containers made with polyvinyl chloride are usually marked with a number 3 or ‘PVC’, while those made with polycarbonate are marked with a number 7 or ‘PC’.

  • Don’t reuse plastics with the number 1 (used in water and soft drink bottles) and throw away worn or scratched plastic containers. Hand-wash plastic containers instead of using the dishwasher, in order to reduce wear and tear.

  • When using non-stick cookware, use the lowest temperature possible to safely cook the food, and run the exhaust fan over the stove when cooking on the stove top. Where possible, opt for safer materials such as cast iron for cookware.

Anyone having health issues suspected of plastic chemical contamination should seek urgent professional medical advice.