Have you ever wondered about the safety of the plastic wrap used by grocery stores for cheese and meats? It looks like the same type of plastic wrap that most of us use at home, right? And we’ve learned that the major plastic wrap brands (Saran, Glad, etc.) are made from low density polyethylene (LDPE, #4) which is considered a safer plastic. But with a little digging, you’ll quickly find that most of the plastic wrap used by supermarkets is made from a PVC based plastic (#3), not to mention the styrofoam tray (#6) its sitting in! This type of plastic wrap is often referred to as “cling wrap” or “food wrap film” and is more durable, airtight and moisture resistant.
We’ve discussed the woes of PVC a lot over the last two years, but how does it affect our food as a plastic wrap? In order to be soft and stretchy, PVC requires a plasticizer – many of which are toxic to humans. The Mindful Momma explains why we should be concernced:
These PVC-based cling wraps contain a liquid plasticizer called DEHA (Di-ethylhexyl). While the FDA considers it safe for food use, numerous studies have confirmed that DEHA can leach out of plastic wrap and into food. Since DEHA is a possible human carcinogen that affects the liver in particular, it might be a good idea to avoid it. Foods like cheese and deli meats are of the most concern because they are capable of absorbing higher quantities of DEHA. Also, vinyl chloride, the main building block of PVC, is a known human carcinogen. Apparently, there’s a lot of controversy about whether plastic wrap is really harmful or not, but my feeling is – stay on the safe side – especially when kids are involved.
Avoiding PVC food wrap isn’t easy. The best way to start is to ask your butcher to prepare the cuts of meat you want and wrap it in paper. Most butcher or freezer paper is coated with wax or polyethylene which are better alternatives. As for blocks of cheese, look for packages with Ziploc style closures, and plastic packages that have been heat-sealed, because most of these bags are made from polyethylene.
Of course the best way to locate PVC-free food is to purchase fresh ingredients from farmer’s markets or through Community Supported Agriculture programs. Also some natural food store don’t wrap all the produce in plastic, and use paper wrap and bags instead.