What Are the Dangers of Plastic Bags for Food Storage?

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Close-up of a grocery shopper pouring a scoopful of food into a plastic bag. (Image: Felipe Dupouy/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Proper food storage is important to keeping it safe to eat. Eating food that has been improperly stored has the potential to make a person sick, particularly if that storage container is a plastic that contains dangerous chemicals. Pennsylvania State University recommends storing food in plastic bags—designed only for that purpose—as vital to keeping food safe. However, storing food in any plastic, both food storage bags or other plastic bags, can pose certain dangers to humans.

Chemicals

All plastic is made from chemicals that have the potential to harm a person's health. The chemicals that make up plastic include BPA and DEHA. According to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, grocery bags are made from high density polyethylene or low density polyethylene and are usually coded for recycling as a 2 or 4. When food is stored in plastic bags these chemicals can leach into the food and then be ingested. This also includes plastic wrap, which is made up of similar components, says the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. Over time these chemicals have been linked to tissue changes, genetic damage, chromosomal errors, miscarriage, birth defects, early onset of puberty and hormonal changes. In children, chemical leaching can cause harm to their developing immune system and can result in disrupted hormones and behavioral problems.

Pests

According to the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, food in the pantry should be stored in airtight containers to prevent pests getting into them, including bugs and rodents. Plastic grocery bags are not airtight and should not be used. Food storage bags can be broken into or bit open by pests. Using glass jars is the recommended method for storing food in the pantry as chemical leaching can occur when food is stored in plastic containers.

Bacteria

When food is not stored properly, it can grow harmful bacteria that can make a person sick. The Texas Agricultural Extension Service advises that food must be stored in airtight containers in the refrigerator to prevent bacterial contamination. A food that is not wrapped properly can become infected with bacteria from other food in the refrigerator that has already spoiled, and can spread it as well. Additionally, meats that are not in airtight wrappings can drip onto other foods, contaminating them with food-borne pathogens like E.coli or salmonella. Plastic grocery bags and food storage bags can burst or be broken when shifting food around in the refrigerator, which creates conditions that can grow and spread bacteria.

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