Dangerous liaisons:acidic foods and plastic

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Common acidic foods include vinegar, lemon juice, tomatoes, fruit juices, milk, cola and other fizzy drinks. Food that is acidic can react with materials such as plastic containers and packaging, which may contain toxic components such as bisphenol A (BPA), bisphenol S (BPS), bisphenol F (BPF), lead and antimony, to list just a few amongst potentially thousands. When acidic food is stored in plastic containers, or comes in contact with epoxy resins found in food packaging, leaching of these toxic compounds can occur. One study has shown that, when in contact with acidic foods, there is increased leaching of toxins from plastic or plastic-lined baby bottles. Another study found that darker coloured bottles leach more toxins than light or clear ones when in contact with acidic foods, and that leaching actually increases over the lifespan of a product.[1] [2] While it may seem simple to avoid ‘acidic’ foods and drinks, it may be surprising that milk, a common beverage served in plastic baby bottles, is in fact an acidic liquid.[3]

Some studies have shown that the levels of toxic substances leaching from plastic containers when in contact with acidic food are not above the levels deemed ‘safe’ by the European Commission in Regulation 10/2011, thus suggesting that this leaching should not be a concern for health.[4] However other studies suggest that even doses below the accepted ‘safe’ limit of BPA, for example, can be harmful.[5] BPA is a recognised endocrine disruptor, meaning it interferes with hormonal systems in mammals.[6] It has also been demonstrated that exposure during gestation and in the first few weeks following birth may be associated with male and female infertility, an increased predisposition to breast and prostate cancer and behavioural abnormalities.[7] Concerns over the impact of the endocrine disruptor BPA on health have resulted in its removal from many consumer products, especially baby bottles, which are therefore named “BPA Free”. In many cases, however, the BPA in these products has been replaced with alternative toxic substances, such as bisphenol S (BPS) or bisphenol F (BPF), which have been shown to have similar, or potentially worse endocrine disrupting properties to BPA, with the unfortunate added potential for other adverse effects.[8] [9] Given that milk is an acidic liquid, which have been shown to increase the leaching of these substances, BPA-free bottles may not be the ‘safe’ alternative they are claimed to be.

Whilst it could be argued that the levels of leached toxins safely reside within the recommended limits, these limits often do not take into account multiple exposure routes or the volume or frequency of exposure. These regulations do not account for what may seem obvious: the vast difference in exposure to these toxins between consumers, for example those who drink no cola as opposed to those who drink five bottles. Given the increased rate of toxic chemical leaching when plastic is in contact with acidic food, a much safer option is to use glass containers for these products, but caution should still be taken, as glass containers often have plastic lid seals.

[1] Sánchez-Martínez, M. et al. (2013) Migration of antimony from PET containers into regulated EU food simulants. Food Chem. 141(2). 816-22

[2] Kubwabo, C. et al. (2009). Migration of bisphenol A from plastic baby bottles, baby bottle liners and reusable polycarbonate drinking bottles. Food Additives & Contaminants. 26(6). 928-937

[3] FDA (2007) Approximate pH of foods and food products. Retrieved October 2016 from, http://www.foodscience.caes.uga.edu/extension/documents/FDAapproximatepHoffoodslacf-phs.pdf

[4] Reimann, C. et al. (2007). Bottled drinking water: Water contamination from bottle materials (glass, hard PET, soft PET), the influence of colour and acidification. Applied Geochemistry. 25(7). 1030-1046

[5] Richter, C.A. et al. (2007). In vivo effects of bisphenol A in laboratory rodent studies. Reproductive Toxicology. 24(2). 199-224  

[6] James, A.  et al. (2013). Review: Endocrine disrupting chemicals and immune responses: A focus on bisphenol-A and its potential mechanisms. Molecular Immunology. 53(4). 421-430

[7] Maffini, M.B. et al. (2006). Endocrine disruptors and reproductive health: the case of bisphenol-A. Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology. (25). 179-186

[8] Rochester, J.R. et al. (2015). Bisphenol S and F: A Systematic Review and Comparison of the Hormonal Activity of Bisphenol A Substitutes. Environmental Health Perspectives. 123(7). 643-650

[9] Eladak, S. et al. (2015). A new chapter in the bisphenol A story: bisphenol S and bisphenol F are not safe alternatives to this compound. Fertility and Sterility. 103(1). 11-21


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Bisphenol A is a well-known toxin, I always tried to buy BPA free bottles for my baby when possible, but when I heard that it was replaced by other toxic substances, I gave up. The only way I see is to buy glass or paper packages, but if you are forced to buy plastic the only thing is to read the date of production and chose those which are most recently made, i.e. so food of the shortest period of time in contact with plastic bottle .

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Plastic botles is just a part of BPA usage. We are constantly exposed to BPA through different products and industries, literally almost all plastics are potential BPA carriers and plastic is all around. Let's take milk in glass bottles, or whathoever in glass, we do not know in what containers it was stored before being poured in the bottle, with what equipment it was in contact. I suppose that plastic is very common at manufacture facilities, so BPA is always in our food. 

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Regarding paper packaging, most of them are also covered with a layer of polymer inside, it can be that this layer contains BPA, as well as it is widely known the cash till receipts are covered in BPA too, it is all around us 

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