Is there scientific proof that cooking hot food with cling film is dangerous to your health (eg affects male/female hormones)?


2 Answers

Kathryn Wright Profile
Kathryn Wright , I have a keen interest in health and fitness , answered

Yes, there is proof that clingfilm is dangerous to your health, not just as a result of cooking with it, but also from simply using it in general.

The chemicals in standard cling-film are called phthalates, often referred to as plasticizers. Phthalates are what keep plastic flexible and make cling-film so convenient and clingy. They also have many other applications, such as high-shine nail varnishes and are even used in some soaps!

What are the health risks involved with phthalates?

Well, if you discovered you were pregnant, you would definitely want to steer clear of anything containing these chemicals. Studies only began properly about 6 years ago and, in 2008, one such study at the University of Rochester's school of medicine found that baby boys whose mothers were exposed to a lot of phthalates whilst pregnant had noticeably smaller genitals that those who had little or no exposure. In this instance, phthalates were found to be an 'endocrine disruptor'.

"fertile men in an agricultural area of Missouri have been shown to have sperm counts about 40% lower than men in three urban US areas, and to have higher urinary concentrations of three currently used pesticides."

Source: Seemingly proving a correlation between pesticides and fertility.

How do you spot phthalates in products?

These are the abbreviations and variations of these chemicals:

  • DBP (dibutyl phthalate).
  • DINP (diisononyl phthalate).
  • DEP (diethyl phthalate).
  • DEHP (di 2-ethylhexl phthalate).
  • DMP (dimethyl phthalate).
  • BBP (benzyl butyl phthalate)
  • DNOP (di-n-octyl phthalate)
  • DIDP (Diisodecyl phthalate)
All the above have been banned in the EU for varying reasons, and include those contained in toys that children might suck or chew. In the States, there is a ban on products containing any more than traces of the chemical.

Can I microwave or cook food in cling-film?

I would definitely recommend that you don't. Heating plastic encourages the release of these chemicals and they can permeate your food. My suggestion is to look out for cling-film that is designed for use when heating food - you will find it is not as clingy or as stretchy, but this is evidence that it contains few phthalates.

There are also ranges of bowls and containers that have been designed to be safe for use in a microwave.

In truth, it is unlikely that we will ever know the effects of many of the products and chemicals that have been designed to make our lives and day-to-day tasks more convenient. If in doubt, go with natural and organic to reduce risks and always read the label, as the World Health Organisation regulates warnings and recommendations on products containing harmful chemicals.

3 People thanked the writer.
Lily Bradic
Lily Bradic commented
I never knew cling-film was dangerous! I can see why it would be a bad idea to microwave it, but I didn't think it was bad for general use. Great answer, thanks!
Melinda Moore
Melinda Moore commented
Brilliant answer, thank you!
Melinda Moore Profile
Melinda Moore , Mother of a geneticist, who likes to talk about her work, answered

To add to Kathryn Wright's great answer above, the UK no longer uses phthalates in cling-film, though they are still found in the plastic tubing used in food processing equipment, and in many other products to which we are exposed on a daily basis.

What products contain phthalates?

It's really surprising how many products there are in which phthalates can be found. These include (but are not restricted to):

  • Baby formula (amazingly)
  • Cheese
  • Margarine
  • Crisps
  • Vinyl Flooring
  • Emulsion paint

Even more surprisingly, perhaps, the UK Committee on Toxicity (COT) heard evidence from Scandinavia in 2010, on phtalate exposure from rubber clogs! (The report can be read in full here.)

Chemicals in our water

Phthalates are commonly-found in groundwater, rivers and drinking water, due to how long they remain in the environment.

How are phthalates stored in the body?

Phthalates are fat-soluble, and are therefore likely to accumulate in body fat.

As a result, one of the biggest concerns about these chemicals is their ability to act as endocrine disruptors, and the effect that this can have on both male and female hormones.

For example, several phthalates are testicular toxicants, and have been found to damage the reproductive systems of rats at low exposures.

Further reading on the effects of chemical exposure on the body

There have already been several, high-profile books and documentaries on this subject, in which respected scientists have considered the effect of plasticizers and other chemicals on the male reproductive system.

If you're interested in knowing more about the chemical threat to male fertility, which appears to be in signficant decline, I'd suggest you read "Adam's Curse" by Bryan Sykes, who is Professor of Human Genetics at Oxford University.

Professor Sykes' book also covers other areas of concern, in addition to the effects of chemical exposure, and is refreshingly easy to read, even for non-scientists like me.

There has also been a high-profile documentary made on the subject of the effects of chemical exposure on the male reproductive system, which you can view here.

In it, Dr Herbert Needleman says, We are conducting a vast toxicological experiment in which our children and our children's children are the experimental subjects.

(Dr Needleman is a paediatrician and researcher at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre.)

Do women need to be concerned?

Women don't appear to be exempt from the potential effects of phthalates, either.

According to this article, occupational exposure to high levels of phthalates has been associated with increased complications of pregnancy, and miscarriages.

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