How to Tell If Plastic is BPA-Free

Plastic Cup
Plastic Cup. Photo © Flickr user D_Coetzee

New plastics are usually clearly labeled “BPA-Free” if they are, but what about all of those plastic food and drink containers that you already have in your kitchen , or that you come across at thrift stores and yard sales. How can you tell if they’re BPA-free? Here’s the answer.

BPA (bisphenol-a) is found in polycarbonate plastics, which are hard, clear (or clear tinted) unbreakable plastics. They’ve been used since the 1960s to make products like water bottles, food storage containers, drinking glasses, pitchers, baby bottles and sippy cups.

You can pretty much assume that any opaque plastics (solid colored plastics that you can’t see through) are BPA-free. That’s step one in eliminating BPA plastics from your home.

For any plastics that fit the description of being hard, clear (or tinted) and unbreakable, flip them over and look for a recycling number. Polycarbonate plastics will have a number 7 on them, but they’re not the only plastic that gets labeled with a 7, so you’ll need to do a bit more investigating.

Look to see if the container is labeled as unbreakable or microwave-safe. If it is, that’s a good indicator that it contains BPA. Get rid of it.

If you see a label indicating that the container is hand-wash only, it’s probably made of acrylic, and therefore okay to keep.

If the container doesn’t have a recycling number on it, and you bought it before July of 2012, it’s best to assume that it contains BPA, and to get rid of it.

Metal containers (especially aluminum water bottles) are sometimes lined in BPA to improve the taste of the water. If you feel any sort of plastic lining inside a container that isn't marked as BPA-free, it's best to throw it away. These types of linings are especially prone to scratching.

A Final Thought About the Safety of Plastic

Polycarbonates may be getting all the attention these days due to concerns over BPA, but it’s important to remember that it isn’t the only plastic that can leach chemicals into your food.

While you’re going through your plastic containers, go ahead and toss any that are scratched or damaged. Worn containers pose a higher leaching risk.

Also a Leaching Risk:

  • microwaving food in plastic containers
  • storing acidic foods (like tomato sauce in plastic). The acidity could draw chemicals into your food.
  • placing foods in containers while they're still hot
  • scrubbing containers too vigorously, or with scrubbers (this could cause scratches)
  • Routinely exposing your containers to high temperatures (including washing them in the dishwasher)
  • Using containers over an extended period of time. 

Switch to using glass in your kitchen, and you won't have to worry about any of these concerns. Glass is:

  • microwave-safe
  • dishwasher-safe
  • won't stain
  • doesn't wear out
  • won't leach chemicals into your food, if it becomes scratched or is exposed to high temperatures

Sources:

“Bisphenol-A,” Haz Waste Help. http://www.hazwastehelp.org/chemtoxpesticides/bisphenola.aspx (11 August 2015).

“Indirect Food Additives: Polymers,” Docket No. FDA-2012-F-0031. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-07-17/html/2012-17366.htm (11 August 2015).

Parker-Pope, Tara. “A Hard Plastic is Raising Tough Questions,” The New York Times 22 April 2008.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/22/health/22well.html (11 August 2015).