How safe are takeaway containers?

How safe are takeaway containers?
PHOTO: The Straits Times

How often do you drop by your neighbourhood food court to take home some hot, piquant and savoury hawker fare? This isn't just about the calories, but something far worse- toxic chemicals from plastic containers lurking in your food.

A study by George Washington University found out that regular dining out at restaurants, cafeterias and fast-food outlets may increase the level of potentially toxic chemicals called phthalates in the body.

Phthalates are a group of chemicals that are found in plastic materials. These molecules are therefore present in food packaging items such as takeaway boxes and even gloves used by food handlers. Phthalates can also leach into food items from the equipment used to prepare the food during the food-processing stage.

These harmful chemicals are dangerous as they are foreign molecules that could disrupt the hormones in your body. These molecules could especially endanger the lives of pregnant women as these chemicals could potentially lead to fertility problems, pregnancy complications and other health issues. Children are also vulnerable to the effects of this toxic molecule.

Lead author of the study, Julia Varshavsky and Senior author Ami Zota, as well as other researchers, used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey collected between 2005 and 2014.

Photo: The Straits Times

10,253 people were asked to recall the food they have eaten in the past 24 hours. 61 per cent of the participants reported dining out the previous day. The researchers then analysed the phthalate levels in their urine samples and compared these results to the information received earlier.

Upon studying this, the researchers concluded that there is a strong link between phthalate exposure and dining out, among all age groups but more prominently in teenagers. Not surprisingly, the study found that individuals who consume more fast food, restaurant and cafeteria meals have 35 per cent more phthalate in their body than people who enjoyed more home-cooked meals.

They also found that fast food items like burgers and other sandwiches have an increased level of phthalates. Does this information make you shudder as you think about how many times you ate out last week? The best way to combat this is to veer towards home-cooked food.

Food prepared at home contains a much lower level of phthalates. This finding brings our attention to the dangerous chemicals we are exposing our body to whenever we choose to eat out- and with the ubiquity of food courts in our country, that amounts to a lot for Singaporeans.

Although phthalates are not entirely avoidable as plastic packaging dominates the world's food and beverage industry, we can surely take measures to limit our exposure to such hormone-upsetting chemicals. A little effort to plan and prepare your own food at home with safe cooking practices will go a long way.

This article was first published on Shape.

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