Breaking down the numbers: Chemicals in Packaging


Walking into the grocery store, we may feel more confident in making the right decision for our families thanks to more transparent labeling efforts. The USDA Organic label is stamped right there in plain sight on our favorite food and beverage items. The strict standards assure that when we purchase USDA Organic, we are avoiding harmful chemicals such as synthetic pesticides, GMOs, antibiotics, and growth hormones.

Unfortunately, the organic label doesn’t quite extend its protection to the actual packaging of the food or beverage item. It is still up to us to remain vigilant against what endocrine disruptors or carcinogens might be in the packaging! Research suggests that chemicals can leach into the food or drink that we consume, and unknowingly we are exposed to significant environmental toxins lurking in packaging. Of course, once we know what to avoid, shopping for safer alternatives becomes part of the routine.

Recycling…What’s your number?

Understanding recycling numbers is a big step towards understanding what may be leaching into our food and drinks. These are the numbers we try to avoid:

#3: Phthalates
Phthalates are plasticizers, meaning that they soften plastic. They are found in some plastic food containers, and many other products from personal care to cleaning supplies, along with BPA (see #7). Phthalates are considered endocrine disruptors and have been linked to early puberty in girls, a potential indicator for breast cancer.

#6: Styrene
Those styrofoam egg cartons? Disposable cups? Plastic utensils? Well, they all have one health concern in common: they can leach styrene, a suspected carcinogen as defined by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

#7: BPA
BPA stands for bisphenol-A, one of the most popular and pervasive environmental toxins to which we are exposed. It is used to create hard plastic (polycarbonate) and is common in reusable food packaging. Research indicates that BPA exposure is linked to breast cancer. Recently, its replacement, BPS, has been shown to have similar endocrine disrupting effects (Barrett, 2013) Also, don’t forget to avoid canned food- it’s found in the epoxy resin lining!

Food shopping shouldn’t be a game of “hide-and-go-seek endocrine disruptors or carcinogens”- that’s ridiculous. Unfortunately, the more we are aware of environmental toxins, the more common this scenario of searching for healthy products becomes. Awareness and conversation, however, are the empowering tools of prevention.

Making the commitment to safer alternatives, you are giving yourself and your loved ones a chance for a healthier future.

Join the conversation with Protect Our Breasts on Facebook, download our free tip card and learn how to practice safer habits at the grocery store shelves.

Refuse breast cancer – before it starts!


Breast Cancer Fund

Published on: December 04, 2014
About the Author
Photo of Kelsie Mitchell

Kelsie Mitchell is the Customer Relations Manager for the Protect Our Breasts Executive board. Her research concerns the center store science, which includes packaging, plastics, and processed foods. Kelsie is a senior public health major with minors in biology and anthropology.

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