That innocent-looking blender could be full of BPA- ridden plastic, so chuck it for one with a glass pitcher.
Q: Are my clear plastic appliances and melamine plates safe?
A: The kitchen can be a dangerous place for a klutz. Case in point: I somehow figured out a way to slice open my Achilles tendon with a cake mixer. Don't ask. But, actually, this is least of the culinary threats.
There are plenty of nefarious characters in our kitchens, including the cancer-linked non-stick chemicals used in pans, countertop appliances and grease-resistant food packaging, as well as the high levels of lead found in crystal and in some ceramic Chinatown dish wear (according to testing done by doctors at a Philadelphia university).
What of that clear, hard plastic stuff in your blender and food processor? In most cases, it is indeed that estrogenic BPA (bisphenol A)-heavy villain, polycarbonate. That's true for new appliances, too, unless it specifically says the plastic is BPA-free, as is the case with KitchenAid's immersion blender jars but not with its food processors. If you're unsure, call and ask, though when I first called the company, reps told me all of their food processors were BPA-free.
When I pressed for specifics about what plastic is being used in its place, the rep came back to tell me she had been wrong - BPA it was.
BPA-free blenders are easy to find - just reach for ones with glass pitchers. Food processors, on the other hand, not so much. Hamilton Beach says its food processors and plastic blenders are now BPA-free and made with safer polypropylene. However they do have PVC lids (which contain phthalates). Your only plastic-free bet is to go your grandmother's route and get yourself an old-fashioned stainless steel food mill. Bonus: it's hand powered so no dirty electricity is required.
Regardless, the amount of time your pesto or margarita is in contact with your blender or food processor is pretty minimal. Plus, if you're washing those appliances by hand, you're minimizing time and wear in a leach-boosting dishwasher. I'm less crazy about the plastics used in items that get run through the dishwasher and/or chewed on every day. You know, clear hard-plastic glass wear (cups, wine glasses, pitchers) or reusable plastic straws (yep, the one your kid's chewed on until it looks like a dog toy).
I'm also not wild about polycarbonate's presence in food storage containers labelled "microwavable." Again, exposing clear, hard, shatterproof plastic to heat in dishwashers or microwaves can up its leaching potential. If you're a Bodum lover with an older shatter-proof model, your boiled water gets to steep in polycarbonate every morning as you make your morning coffee, too.
Where else is the plastic lurking? Some measuring cups, cutlery, salt/pepper grinders and citrus juicers. You can actually find polycarbonate in opaque colours, too, and in kitchen stuff like candy/chocolate moulds (into which bakers pour piping-hot melted goo).
What about melamine? This common "kid-friendly" dishware/whiteboard/countertop plastic made headlines when the compound was found to be tainting baby formula in China. Melamine is basically urea formaldehyde. Sounds dodgy, and it can be. Taiwan's Consumers' Foundation tested plastic tableware and found that it can leach melamine into hot food or when microwaved.
Now, keep in mind that it mostly leached into acidic foods when heated at 71° Celsius for a couple of hours. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports that in normal use (for example, cold orange juice in a melamine cup for 15 minutes), it would leach a trace amount 250 times lower than the level of melamine acceptable in foods other than infant formula.
The FDA warns that food and drinks shouldn't be microwaved or heated in melamine to avoid leaching. I certainly wouldn't be drinking hot cocoa out of the stuff, either.
Got a question?
Send your green queries to email@example.com