Lunchbox Dangers

We buy and prepare as much healthy food as possible for our children, pack it into a beloved character lunchbox, and send them off to school. But is the healthy food we’re sending with them encased in a potentially toxic vessel?

It may be no surprise that as we become more educated about low-grade, hazardous plastic leaching chemicals from water bottles, food storage containers, and microwavable holders, lunchboxes are now under fire. As we sit and wish for our government to implement moreregulations to keep our kids safe, we currently have no choice but to take matters into our own hands.

So what is the danger in the cute little receptacles that hold our children’s lunches?

Many lunchboxes and drink bottles are made with PVC (#7 plastic) and vinyl lining. These plastics can contain harmful chemicals such as lead, BPA, and phthalates, all of which are cancer-causing and hormone-disrupting chemicals. When these plastics are used to hold edibles, the chemicals are leached from them and potentially contaminate the food and drinks they’re supposed to protect (you can follow the Mount Sinai link below for more info).

Some sandwich bags and plastic wrap also contain phthalates, a toxic chemical that has been proven to disrupt the endocrine system in children. For wrapping sandwiches and snacks, it is recommended to use BPA-free reusable containers, butcher paper, or if using baggies, choose a line such as GLAD that’s made with polyethylene (safe plastic).

You’ll find it comforting to know that many companies have addressed this issue and are producing safe vessels for carting lunches to school—or anywhere you may want to have food handy while you’re out. An Internet search for “toxic-free lunchboxes” will return a host of possibilities.

When making the switch, you want to look for “BPA-free” plastic or “lead-free” metal. And while you’re at it, you may also want to consider purchasing a stainless steel container for your child’s healthy beverage. (There is enough controversy to warrant its own post about juice boxes containing lead in the lining, not to mention that processed juices are NOT healthy to begin with). So filtered water in a stainless steel cup is the best way to go.

Though your child may miss choosing their favorite cartoon character on the outside, it’s important to explain why those lunchboxes may not be the safest option. We may not be able to win all the toxic-free battles, but this one is an easy fix (and no one says these containers can’t be decorated with stickers or some other creative embellishments!).

If your child regularly takes lunch to school, we strongly urge you to ensure the one they have is safe; and if not, make a change. It’s scary to think that our children are eating out of a potentially toxic food container five days a week, but just think: you can change that as a parent in a single day.

As per Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health, the following checklist should be followed when shopping for lunchboxes and food and drink containers:

  • Seek out lunchboxes labeled “lead safe” or “lead free,” “PVC-free” or “vinyl-free,” and plastic bottles labeled “BPA-free.” Plastics should be substituted as much as possible with glass or stainless steel or used in a safe manner (see below) where substitutes are unavailable.
  • Because heat increases the release of phthalates from plastic, food or drink should never be warmed in a plastic container.
  • Look to recycling numbers for help in spotting the bad ones: PVC or vinyl is identifiable by the recycling #3 on the bottom of plastic containers; #6 used in Styrofoam cups and plates indicates the presence of polystyrene; and #7 usually indicates the presence of BPA (Some new bio-based plastics, which are safe, may be labeled 7, as well).
  • Finally, when purchasing any product either made of plastic or stored in plastic, remember to check the recycling number with the following rhyme: With your food and drink choose 4, 5, 1 and 2; all the rest aren’t good for you! If these numbers can’t be found, then you may want to take a precautionary approach and avoid using these products.

Safe Plastics: 1, 2, 4, 5 

Plastics to Avoid: 3, 6, 7

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