The Safety of Children’s Food


A patient’s parent asked me whether she should use plastic or glass baby bottles. A recent American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement summarized some of the scientific evidence for parents and pediatricians seeking to understand the risks of exposure to plastics, as well as food additives and other chemicals that come in contact with our food. There aren’t a lot of large, well-designed studies out there, though, and data in humans is limited. This is one of many reasons that this policy statement, from Drs. Leonardo Trasande, Rachel M. Shaffer, Sheela Sathyanarayana and the Council on Environmental Health, argues that we should have more rigorous testing and regulation of food additives to ensure that we keep developing babies and children safe.

One would imagine that we currently have a system for closely monitoring the safety of the foods we eat. However, the current Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which was written in 1938 and last updated in 1958, is not only outdated, but also has some big problems. Most food additives come to the market with a designation of  “generally regarded as safe” and thus do not need to be studied for their impact on human health. One would hope, though, that the FDA would evaluate the data and reassess the safety of food additives, but they do not have the authority to study chemicals already on the market.

Why are kids at particular risk? For one, children have greater dietary exposure to food additives. Also, since their organ systems are still developing, they are more vulnerable to the effects of toxins and may have disruptions in hormone levels that impact their growing bodies. Furthermore, there are sociodemographic differences in that low-income and minority children are disproportionately exposed to food additives. If you don’t believe me, browse the snack aisle of your local corner store.

So what’s a parent with a cabinet full of Goldfish and plastic water bottles to do? Before you start purging your kitchen, here is a summary of the tips that the policy statement’s authors offer as a starting point:

  • Prioritize consumption of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Avoid processed meats, especially during pregnancy
  • Avoid microwaving food or beverages in plastic, if possible
  • Avoid placing plastics in the dishwasher
  • Use alternatives to plastic, such as glass or stainless steel, when possibleLook at the recycling code on the bottom of products to find the plastic type and avoid plastics with codes 3, 6, and 7 unless labeled as “biobased” or “greenware,” indicating that they are made from corn and do not contain bisphenols.
  • Encourage hand-washing before handling foods and/or drinks, and wash all fruits and vegetables that cannot be peeled.

This policy statement guides consumers in making more educated choices for their families and urges the government to make changes in our legislation and oversight of food additives. What we should all take from this is that we need to advocate for our children until we can be confident that our food is safe.

As for the parent’s question about plastic baby bottles, I reassured them that bisphenol A (BPA) was removed from baby bottles and sippy cups in 2012, but as we know, we have much more to learn. I used glass bottles with my second child after reading some of the literature on endocrine disruptors, but plastic continues to be pervasive in our lives. We all make the best choices we can and some of us are fortunate enough to have this choice.

Katie Lockwood, MD, is a mother and pediatrician in Philadelphia and a contributor to MetroKids’ MomSpeak through her Mommy Call blog. Opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of her employer. This article is also published in the September/October 2018 issue of QVNA Magazine. It has been reprinted with permission.



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