Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Food Storage Debate. Maybe it's just all in my head.

I am not one of those people who believes everything they read.  I do, however, pay attention to things I read over and over again.  Two things I take seriously are aluminum in our bodies and the potential long-term effects of such toxicity, and plastic materials and the chemicals they are made from leaching into our food from food storage containers.

I once gave away an entire set of Calphalon pots and pans.  You know, the ones that line the shelves of high-end cooking equipment shops with the anodized aluminum sides and base that seem as if they could stop a round from an UZI?  I did.  It was because of all of the hype surrounding the connection between Alzheimer's and higher than normal concentrations of aluminum in individuals who suffer from the disease.

Around the same time, my friends and neighbors began selling Pampered Chef cooking equipment.  I attended more of those home sale parties than I could count and went into the whole thing very wary, suspecting a lot of high-priced, low-quality gadgets that I'd never need or want.  What I found was an entire line of baking stones in all sizes and shapes which meant I never had to bake in those cheap, flimsy aluminum baking sheets and pans again.  My stainless steel pots and pans have always been my primary source of stove top cooking equipment and once my godmother's set of cast iron skillets found a home in our little farmhouse, I never even missed the Calphalon.

The Alzheimer's debate has gone back and forth over the years since I parted with my snazzy set of cooking equipment, but I have stuck to my guns and decided that I'd rather just not take the chance of using aluminum to cook my family's food in day after day.  It seems to me that heat would break down the metal and allow it to leach into our food, the same way we can receive the benefit of adding iron to food cooked in cast iron cookware.  After watching my grandmother deal with the disease, I was even more adamant about keeping aluminum away from the food we eat.  There are those little unavoidable problems, like soda in cans, the enormous sheet of foil I use every year to tent our Thanksgiving turkey, meat bought in bulk that needs to be portioned and wrapped before freezing.

We don't drink soda from cans very often, but I have always had trouble trying to find a way around the foil issue.  It is real.  It does break down during cooking.  At the last Italian restaurant I worked in the chef would reheat foil-wrapped baked lasagna and leave the foil on the pan all through service while it was kept warm in the steam table.  Where the aluminum would rest against the acidic surface of the lasagna, it would break down into a silvery-gray metallic residue which would sit on the surface.  I would have preferred not to serve it that way, but we were told that it was just fine and to scrape it off.  The sheet of foil would be holey in the areas that had been in prolonged contact with the sauce during baking and cooling and reheating and the holding time.  The foil so obviously was breaking down before my eyes.  At that point I decided that the only time I would cook with aluminum foil was in roasting that annual bird for the holidays and maybe when coal-baking potatoes for special occasions.

But what about wrapping leftovers in foil and storing food wrapped in aluminum in the freezer?  I don't know.  Maybe someone could let me know if they have the answer to that.  I'd rather be safe than sorry.  Alzheimer's is a sorry condition!  Having said that, however, it's only fair to mention a valid point I saw while researching this issue.  Just because Alzheimer's patients have higher levels of aluminum in their bodies doesn't mean the aluminum came first and the disease followed as a result.  The author of the article pointed out that Alzheimer's patients, as well as individuals who are ill with other afflictions, can't process out toxins the way healthy individuals can.  Metals can settle within our tissues and organs but can also be chelated out of our bodies through various natural processes.  The bodies of sick individuals may not be able to do this efficiently enough.  So maybe the Alzheimer's causes the increase in aluminum in the body, not the other way around.  It's possible I guess, but I still don't want to take any chances.

If I don't have foil to freeze my food in, I have to use plastic.  And liquids such as stocks and soups can't be stored in foil anyway.  I have made a habit over the years (because I'm such a cheapskate) of saving commercial packaging such as yogurt and sour cream containers to reuse as freezer containers.  I would like to think that I have helped the Earth tremendously by doing this my entire adult life.  But I may have been hurting my family at the same time.  What's wrong with plastic?  It's everywhere.  Well, for one thing, microwaving plastic, I have read at several different times, is believed to cause it to release a synthetic female hormone.  Take a look at this site sponsored by Cornell University and see how you feel about such a scary possibility, Breast Cancer and the Estrogen Connection.  I first became aware of this issue when my older son was a baby.  I made sure from the start to never microwave his food in plastic containers.  Can you imagine giving your son synthetic female hormones on a regular basis?!

Well then the whole sports bottle and bottled water plastic danger hit the news and for the same reason.  Only now they were telling us the toxins could leach into our food and beverages without being microwaved.  What are we to do?  How did our great grandmothers do it?  Food was dried, smoked, pickled, and fermented.  That's how they preserved their food.  Unfortunately, those methods aren't very good at preserving the nutritional value of food.  Thank goodness we have the modern convenience of refrigeration and the option to freeze our leftovers and bulk foods.  But we are left without a safe container to hold them.  I recently read that one of the best ways to reap the potentially harmful properties of plastic coming in contact with food is to reuse those store containers by freezing food in them.  The freezing and warming process breaks down the plastic faster.  I imagine dish washing in a machine helps it along even more rapidly, as does filling them with hot liquid before freezing.

So what are we to do?  Obviously those matching sets of molded plastic storage containers are thicker than the reused dairy tubs, but I can't see that they would break down much slower.  I have messed around with waxed paper to see if I could prevent freezer burn by wrapping my vegetables and meats in it before wrapping the bundle in foil, with the idea that the paper would keep the foil from coming into contact with the food itself and it worked, but then I was faced with the problem of wax on the waxed paper which I'm sure is paraffin which is also being demonized right now...SIGH...What about good old butcher paper?  Sounds like a great idea to me but I still have no idea what to do with the gallons of stock I make quite frequently.

For a Christmas gift this last year, I was given a set of those matching plastic storage containers in a color that also went with my kitchen's decor.  About two days later I noticed that a large section of script on the box claimed that the plastic used to make the containers was BPA free.  I guess that's a solution.  But are they really safe?  I'm going to keep using them as I'm all out of other options until they tell me they will kill me too. As my sister likes to say, "You just watch...sunscreen will end up causing skin cancer."  She's probably right. 


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  1. Just FYI Sunscreen is not good for the body if you read the ingredients there are Carcinigens in it. I use Tuppeware for our storage stuff. Miss ya and I remember all those pampered chef shows love the product still.

  2. Oh wow. I figured the waterproofing must so we use it sparingly unless we are at the beach or pool all day when we reapply often. And you're absolutely right. I just found this.

    I remember those parties at your house. One was a baby shower in disguise for me. And then Hubby goofed and blew the surprise about an hour before the party. Then, being the brat that I am, I called a few minutes before it was to start and told you I wasn't feeling well, that I wasn't going to be able to make it to your Pampered Chef party after all. LOL That wasn't nice. It's just wrong that I'm still laughing about it.