Plastic Fantastic, Or Problematic?

So you are thinking of buying a vacuum sealer? Great! 

But you are looking at all those plastic bags and feeling uneasy. That is perfectly understandable.

There are 3 clear issues with using a pile of plastic bags to store food:

  1. Are they safe?
  1. What is sustainable and what is the cost to the environment?
  1. Are they expensive?

In the following articles, we are going to break down these questions and see if we can help you make an informed decision on how to get the best use out of your vacuum sealer – both for yourself and the planet.

Are Vacuum Sealer Bags Safe?

In recent years, plastic has gone from a miracle, literally cover-all, wrapping to a material linked to some cancers and other health uses.

Without wanting to turn this piece into a chemistry thesis, most of us are aware that some plastics may leach nasties into our food and drink when they are in contact with them. This is especially true if the plastics involved are heated, which is worrying if you want to vacuum seal or sous vide plastic pouches. 

And unless you’ve been living in the wilds of the Amazonian jungle for the last 3 years, you probably know that these days, if you want to buy a water bottle, you choose the one which is BPA free. BPA is bisphenol A and it is an endocrine disruptor. Basically, if it gets into your body it may mimic your natural hormones which could result in a number of health issues. This is clearly not a good outcome when all you want is to carry water around and keep it clean.

So how come so much of the food industry, from wholesalers right through to your local takeaway, use plastics to store food and keep it fresh? 

Well, the important thing is to use the right kinds of plastic. At the time of writing this, the safest plastics to use in connection with food are food grade, high and low density polyethylene and also polypropylene. 

The magic phrase here is ‘food grade’. If a packaging material is described as ‘food grade’ then it is safe for it to be in direct contact with anything you may eat or drink.

Vacuum sealed cured meat slices

So What About Vacuum Sealer Bags?

If you are uncertain about the different types of vacuum sealer bag available and don’t know which one suits your vacuum sealer machine best, you can read more here.

When you are buying vacuum sealer bags, check to see that they are:

  1. BPA free
  1. Food grade

As BPA is the buzz word for dangerous plastics at the moment, this is the main thing to look out for. All reputable vacuum sealer bag producers should have something in their product description to reassure the customer that their products are safe. 

Another commonly used phrase is ‘FDA approved’, which many use as a shorthand to mean that the plastic is ‘food grade’.

Are Plastics Worth The Risk?

Now this is clearly a weighty subject and not one that this site has been created to tackle. At the end of the day, only you can decide if trusting the plastic bag that you freeze your salmon cutlet in is safe or not.

But if you’re holding off on purchasing a vacuum sealer machine because you have reservations about vacuum storing food, please consider the following before binning the plastic wrap and zip-lock bags in your pantry:

Cathy Moir of The Food Safety Information Council has stated that there are over 4 million food poisoning cases in Australia every year, thousands of which end up in hospital and causing up to 100 deaths annually.

Now think of the thousands of vacuum sealed bags of food that you’ve cut open in your life. Think of the food supply chain, the farmers, the butchers, the supermarkets and how we store food at home. If we ditched plastic bag storage those food poisoning numbers would rocket up. In fact, it would be impossible to imagine how the food industry could operate without plastic storage.

So to my mind, the bigger issue for family health in Australia is less about how safe is plastic but rather how can we better store our food to minimise the risks of food poisoning.

To reiterate, one of the big attractions of vacuum sealing food at home is that the air-tight plastic pouch creates a shield around food which helps to keep it safe from bacteria. So perhaps the answer is to invest in a vacuum sealer and a batch of BPA-free bags and vacuum seal as much of your fridge and pantry as you can for health reasons…

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