Friday, August 19, 2011

Senior Dog Safety

This is a bit of a random post, but a Storm Whistle customer brought this article to my attention earlier today:

Has Your Senior Dog Started to Lose His Hearing?: Five Things to Do When Your Dog Starts Losing His Hearing

I never thought about how perilous the loss of this sense was to dogs. In the article, Ms. Miller discusses how older dogs should be carefully monitored, as interactions with busy streets, bicycles, and even other dogs can turn dangerous very quickly.

And (hooray!), Ms. Miller also mentions the Storm Whistle as a good tool for people wanting to communicate with their hard-of-hearing dogs.

Thanks, Whole Dog Journal!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

And What About Zapping Food in Plastic?

Just like storing leftover food in its tin can, I have always felt somewhat leery about microwaving food in plastic containers. I don’t know what combination of disapproving parental glances and vague newspaper headlines prompted this feeling, but I honestly hesitate before microwaving something in plastic.  But, why? What’s with the hesitation? Am I subconsciously afraid it’ll give me cancer? Or just afraid it’ll make the food taste a little strange?

Let’s figure this out.

While doing my research on BPA last week, I saw this cautionary note:
Consumer Reports is advising those who are concerned that they might be able to reduce, though not necessarily eliminate, their dietary exposure to BPA by taking the following steps:
  • Choose fresh food whenever possible.
  • Consider alternatives to canned food, beverages, juices, and infant formula.
  • Use glass containers when heating food in microwave ovens.
In my last blogpost, I concluded that BPA from the liner is indeed able to leach into the food inside canned goods, given enough time. But is it possible for BPA to be quickly transferred into foods when heated?

Good Housekeeping disagrees. In their November 2008 issue, Good Housekeeping commissioned a study on this very question, publishing their results in the article “Is It Safe to Heat Foods in Plastic?” The scientists ultimately concluded that, despite the presence of BPA in some of the plastic products, “[n]o detectable BPA or phthalates migrated from the products into the simulants.”

So, while some plastic containers DO contain BPA, the heating process itself won’t transfer BPA to the food—but if the plastic container in question actually melts while in the microwave, thereby mixing IN WITH THE FOOD and contaminating it, then you’ve got another problem entirely. 

The United States Department of Agriculture says:
Plastic storage containers such as margarine tubs, take-out containers, whipped topping bowls, and other one-time use containers should not be used in microwave ovens. These containers can warp or melt, possibly causing harmful chemicals to migrate into the food.
The USDA concludes, therefore, that if have a plastic container that doesn’t warp or melt, then it’s safe to use in the microwave.

I don’t know if I believe it, though. I mean, sure.  Maybe BPA and phthalates aren’t getting into our food. But what if some strange, unknown chemical IS successfully leaching its way into the food—a chemical that we don’t yet have the technology to identify? 

Not to get all paranoid on everyone. But for myself personally, I might try to stick with containers made from inert materials like glass. 

Though I suppose one really can’t get too caught up in the thought that our modern technology is slowly but surely giving us cancer. It’s one thing if the evidence is there (a la our canned goods BPA conversation). But if the evidence honestly isn’t there, then that’s that. Sure, in fifty years we’ll probably find out that every time we microwaved plastic, we created an evil space-gremlin—but for now, unless the plastic is actually melting into our food, we’re probably fine.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Some BPA With Your Soup?

 I was researching lead poisoning for a potential blogpost topic earlier this week, and I came across this pamphlet from April 2009: Lead Prevention by the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Illinois Lead Program. It gave plenty of tips for preventing lead poisoning in children—many of them I’ve heard before. But there was one tip that gave me pause:
  • “Do not store food in open cans or pottery.”

That’s it. I have to get down to the bottom of this. I’ve heard varying rumors both for and against storing food in metal cans. I know this isn’t the most pressing topic, but, come on.  We’ve all wondered. We’ve all stood in front of the fridge, a half-full can of beans in hand, contemplating the risks. 

The United States Department of Agriculture has the answer, and they settle the question about storing opened canned food in the fridge for once and for all:
After opening canned foods, is it safe to refrigerate the unused food in the can?
Yes. Unused portions of canned food may be refrigerated in the can, but to preserve optimum quality and flavor, place the unused portion in a glass or plastic storage container.
This “optimum quality and flavor” is addressed further down the page:
Then there's can corrosion. In all foods, but especially in high-acid foods like canned tomatoes, natural chemicals in the food continually react with the container. Over several years, this can cause taste and texture changes, and eventually lower the nutritional value of the food.
This explains the metallic taste that acidic foods (tomatoes, pineapple) will acquire after sitting in an open can.

A metallic taste is one thing, but lead poisoning is another entirely. So, DOES canned food carry a risk of lead poisoning? The USDA says no:
Do cans contain lead?
The canned food industry in the United States stopped using lead-soldered cans in 1991. In 1995, the Food and Drug Administration issued a final rule prohibiting the use of lead solder in all food cans, including imported products. Metal cans, which are made of sheet steel — sometimes with a coating of tin — are now welded closed at the seams. The inside of the can may also have an enamel or vinyl protective coating.
So, there’s that. No lead in canned goods. And as an added bonus, it appears that the canned goods corporations have solved the problem of metallic-tasting pineapples: this magical protective coating!
Yet this “magical protective coating” often contains something pretty terrifying. In late 2009, consumer watch-dog organization Consumer Report stated that over 92% of canned goods in the United States contained BPA.

Yeah. BPA. The chemical that “… mimics human hormones and has been classified as an endocrine disruptor," and “linked to reproductive abnormalities and a heightened risk of breast and prostate cancers, diabetes, and heart disease.”

China, Malaysia, Canada, and the European Union have all banned BPA from being used in baby bottles, and while the United States has taken no federal steps regarding BPA, multiple states and municipalities have outlawed it in infant products or food packaging as well. Inspired by the ban, many people are seeking out BPA-free baby bottles and water bottles, but are unaware of the prevalence of BPA in products such as canned food.

While some manufacturers  are committed to removing BPA from their packaging, others have tried to downplay the dangers of BPA. The Coca-Cola Company, for example, tries to assuage the fears of consumers, saying in the Fox News article
A person weighing 135 pounds (61 kg) would need to ingest more than 14,800 12-ounce cans of a beverage in one day to approach the FDA's acceptable daily limit for BPA consumption.
Wait. BPA is in Coke cans?

I think a lawyer telling me that it would take a thousand pounds of their secret, man-made chemical for me to feel the effects doesn’t make me feel any better. I’d prefer to not have any secret, man-made chemicals at all. 

So, what to do?

A few months ago, scientists from the Breast Cancer Fund and the Silent Spring Institute performed a study on five families who regularly ingested canned food and other packaged products containing BPA. After abruptly switching each families’ diet to one of strictly fresh, organic food served in glass or stainless steel containers, 
...their BPA levels dropped on average by 60 percent. Reductions were even more pronounced-75 percent-for those with the highest exposures. When families returned to their regular diets, their BPA levels increased back to pre-intervention levels."
So the question isn’t really “is it safe to store open canned food in the refrigerator.” The question is “are canned foods safe." They seem pretty dicey to me. I guess the only solution to this is to try and eat only fresh, organic food. And if you can’t afford organic food (like me!), just be sure to wash off the pesticides before you eat 'em!

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