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Plastic Baggies May Contain Dangerous Forever Chemicals

Discover which brand is safer than the others and shop 8 reusable options to try instead.

Plastic Baggies May Contain Dangerous Forever Chemicals

Resealable plastic baggies have become a staple in our lives, offering a convenient way to store and transport our favorite foods and items. However, a recent eye-opening study shows that they're not only bad for the environment but they could be bad for our health, too. It turns out that many of the plastic bags we use daily might be hiding a potential danger—persistent chemicals known as PFAS.

We spoke to Bruce Jarnot, Ph.D., a global materials compliance expert, toxicologist and product compliance advisor at Assent for his insight on how PFAS affect humans and what to use instead of baggies.

The Mamavation plastic bag study

Mamavation is an independent organization that evaluates household products like cosmetics, cleaning supplies and food items for harmful chemicals or toxins. Through funded consumer research and stringent product testing, they identify potentially hazardous substances such as PFAS (perfluorinated and polyfluorinated alkyl substances), phthalates, pesticides, heavy metals and microplastics.

The latest Mamavation study examined plastic sandwich bags for the presence of PFAS (called "forever chemicals" because they stay in our bodies for life). The alarming findings? A staggering 81 percent of the 11 brands tested contained detectable levels of organic fluorine, a telltale sign of PFAS contamination. Notably, Ziploc emerged as the sole brand devoid of any presence of these substances.

What are PFAS?

Why are PFAS a concern? Jarnot explains to Today's Parent that PFAS are synthetic chemicals characterized by strong carbon-to-fluorine bonds.

"These bonds not only provide PFAS with their oil- and water-repellent and non-stick properties but also make them highly resistant to breaking down in the environment and within living organisms," he says.

Jarnot notes that an estimated 97 percent of Americans have PFAS in their bodies. Although most PFAS have not been extensively studied, many have been associated with negative health effects.

Why are PFAS bad?

PFAS were initially introduced in the late 1940s and have since gained widespread use in various consumer products such as non-stick cookware, stain-resistant fabrics, waterproof cosmetics and dental floss due to their unique properties of resistance to heat, water and oil. However, Jarnot says these chemicals pose significant risks to both the environment and human health.

"PFAS are classified as bioaccumulative substances," he says. "This means they do not easily break down in the body and can accumulate over time."

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), harmful effects of PFAS include an increased risk for certain cancers, developmental effects or delays in children, and adverse impacts on the immune system. The EPA further explains that these chemicals can lead to liver damage, thyroid dysfunction, decreased fertility in women, and can interfere with the production of hormones.

Jarnot also suggests that pregnant women and children might be particularly vulnerable to the effects of PFAs. He explains, "PFAS have been linked to an increased risk of pregnancy-induced high blood pressure and preeclampsia, lower birth weight, delayed onset of menstruation and decreased fertility in women."

Other chemicals to look out for

While concerns about PFAS may seem new, Jarnot points out that scientists, manufacturers, NGOs and regulators have been investigating this chemical family for some time. However, the implementation of regulations and restrictions is a slow process. So Jarnot suggests that parents should take proactive measures by carefully examining the substances their children are exposed to.

"This involves being mindful of the materials present in their children’s toys, the water they drink (or use for formula) and even the packaging materials used for their food," he says.

Jarnot adds that parents should also watch out for other harmful chemicals, including heavy metals like lead, bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates.

What can I use instead of Ziploc bags?

There are many food storage options besides plastic bags, like resealable silicone baggies and glass and stainless steel containers.

Does parchment paper have PFAS?

Brown parchment paper is another fantastic alternative to plastic, as Jarnot points out that its unbleached nature means it doesn't contain chlorine, which can release harmful dioxins.

However, he cautions that some parchment papers are coated with Quilon, which may contain the heavy metal chromium. Silicone-treated paper is another good option, but Jarnot warns that some silicone-coated parchment papers might have PFAS mixed in.

To ensure your parchment paper is safe, Jarnot suggests checking for PFAS-free claims on products. "Many independent organizations, like Mamavation, have tested parchment paper for PFAS and can recommend specific brands such as If You Care," he adds.

Does silicone have PFAs?

Although food-grade silicone is generally a safer option compared to plastic, Jarnot advises that you should still be cautious about additives or coatings that might contain PFAS or other harmful substances.

To ensure the safety of your silicone products, consider the following checks:

  • Touch: High-quality silicone should be robust and highly elastic. Inferior products may break easily and feel excessively smooth.
  • Smell: You can also determine the quality of silicone products by their scent. Well-crafted silicone items usually have minimal to no odour, whereas ordinary silicone products often have a more noticeable smell.

Ziploc bag alternatives:

Zip Top Reusable Food Storage Bags

Plastic Baggies May Contain Dangerous Forever Chemicals

ZipTop's reusable storage bags come in 12 sizes and six bright colours, crafted from 100 percent platinum silicone. They are completely free of harmful chemicals like BPA, lead, PVC, latex, and phthalates, keeping your food safe and fresh.

These bags are designed to stand upright, stay open, and zip shut easily, eliminating the risk of leaks and spills. Plus, they are dishwasher, freezer, and microwave-safe, making them incredibly convenient. Forget Tupperware; these bags have you covered!

Stasher Reusable Silicone Storage Bags

Plastic Baggies May Contain Dangerous Forever Chemicals

This premium collection of Stasher bags, crafted from platinum-grade materials, offers a versatile array of three convenient sizes and a vibrant palette of five eye-catching colours, allowing you to stylishly organize your kitchen.

While the price may be higher than other options, Stasher’s bags are durable, dishwasher-safe, microwave-friendly and oven-ready up to 425°F.

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(re)zip 5-Piece Stand-Up Reusable Bag Bundle

Plastic Baggies May Contain Dangerous Forever Chemicals

Free from harmful substances like BPA, lead and phthalates, these reusable bags are crafted from FDA-approved, food-grade PEVA (polyethylene vinyl acetate).

Each set comes with five bags of varying sizes, so whether you're packing a light snack or a hearty meal, there's a perfect fit for your needs. And while they are not dishwasher-safe, you can easily handwash each bag with dish soap to keep them clean.

U Konserve Stainless Steel Food Storage Bento Box Container

Plastic Baggies May Contain Dangerous Forever Chemicals

Great for storing soups, sandwiches or cut-up veggies, this stainless steel container from UKonserve is bound to be your perfect kitchen companion.

It's crafted from top-notch, non-leaching stainless steel and platinum-grade silicone, and guarantees freedom from BPA, BPS, phthalates and lead. There are also three different sizes and colours to choose from and each container is dishwasher-safe.

Bee's Wrap Reusable Beeswax Food Wraps

Plastic Baggies May Contain Dangerous Forever Chemicals

Keep your food fresh with this natural food wrap, crafted from non-toxic materials including organic cotton, beeswax, organic plant oil and tree resin.

Each set comes with wraps in three convenient sizes, making it easy to cover anything from small snacks to large leftovers. Ther are eight charming prints and colours to choose from, including florals, bees and bears.

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Verel Glass Food Storage Containers with Bamboo Lids

Plastic Baggies May Contain Dangerous Forever Chemicals

This set features containers made of borosilicate glass, another safe material that does not release harmful chemicals into food. The convenient bamboo lids also prevent leaks and spills, while maintaining the freshness of your food.

They are BPA-free and can go in the freezer, dishwasher and microwave, so they’re perfect for all your needs. And they’re stackable too, so you can save more room in the fridge.

Blockhütte Stainless Steel Lunch Box for Adults

Plastic Baggies May Contain Dangerous Forever Chemicals

Although this lunchbox is designed for adults, it stands out for its safety and top-notch materials. It is crafted entirely from top-tier, food-safe stainless steel, and boasts a leak-proof lid that keeps your meals securely contained.

The versatility of this lunchbox is equally impressive, as it is available in three different sizes, so you can pick the perfect one whether you're packing a snack or a full-on meal.

Experts: 

  • Bruce Jarnot, Ph. D., a global materials compliance expert, toxicologist, and product compliance advisor at Assent

This article contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.

This article was originally published on May 31, 2024

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Courtney Leiva has over 11 years of experience producing content for numerous digital mediums, including features, breaking news stories, e-commerce buying guides, trends, and evergreen pieces. Her articles have been featured in HuffPost, Buzzfeed, PEOPLE, and more.

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