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Environmental News

"EARTH TALK"

From the Editors of E / The Environmental Magazine

THIS WEEK'S COLUMN

Dear EarthTalk: I love to cook and when I have the time I make soups, stews and pasta meals in large batches and freeze them. I use leftover plastic containers, but I know this is not good. What kinds of containers are safe for freezer food storage?
—Kathy Roberto, via e-mail

Freezing foods in plastic containers isn't as worrisome as heating them, but if you're leery of plastic, glass containers designed to withstand large temperature extremes, such as Ball Jars (aka Mason jars), like the one pictured here, or anything made by Pyrex, can be a sensible alternative. Just be sure not to load them to the brim as some foods expand when frozen.

Photo © Johnathunder, Wikipedia

Reusing leftover plastic food containers to store items in the freezer may be noble environmentally, but it might not be wise from the perspective of keeping food safely frozen and tasting its best when later heated up and served. Many such containers are designed for one-time use and then recycling, so it’s not worth risking using them over and over. Likewise, wax paper, bread wrappers and cardboard cartons should not be used to store frozen foods; these types of containers don’t provide enough of a barrier to moisture and odors and also may not keep food fresh when frozen.

Luckily though, many other materials are suitable for use as freezer-safe storage containers, at least according to the National Center for Home Food Preparation. To qualify as “freezer-safe,” the Georgia-based non-profit maintains, food storage containers must resist moisture-vapor, oil, grease and water as well as brittleness and cracking at low temperatures, while being durable, leak-proof and easy-to seal. They must also protect foods from absorption of off-flavors or odors. “Good freezing materials include rigid containers made of aluminum, glass, plastic, tin or heavily waxed cardboard; bags and sheets of moisture-vapor resistant wraps; and laminated papers made specially for freezing,” reports the group.

As to the leaking of unsafe constituent chemicals (BPA, phthalates, etc.) from certain plastics into foods, freezing is generally less of a threat than heating, but it is better to avoid plastics known to be problematic anyway just to be safe. Polycarbonate plastic, marked with #7, contains BPA while polyvinyl chloride, marked with #3, contains potentially harmful phthalates. If a plastic item does not bear a recycling number on its bottom, steer clear as it may well be a mix, which classifies it as a #7 polycarbonate.

Of course, the majority of plastic containers designed for freezer use are safe and, since they can be washed and reused, are a better choice than disposable freezer bags and wraps. For those still leery of using plastic at all, glass containers designed to withstand large temperature extremes, such as Ball Freezing Jars (Mason jars) or anything made by Pyrex—regular glass containers could break when frozen or if thawed too quickly—can be a sensible alternative. Also, beware of loading up glass containers to the brim before freezing; some foods expand when frozen so leaving a little extra room between the top of the food and the bottom of the (airtight) lid is always a good idea.

However you store your frozen delicacies, keep in mind that freezing food may inactivate microbes like bacteria and mold but may not destroy them. According to dietician and author Elaine Magee on the MedicineNet website, just thawing out frozen foods doesn’t necessarily mean they are automatically safe to eat. Foods that require cooking still require cooking for health’s sake after thawing. Also, Magee recommends quickly labeling and dating any foods you are freezing to facilitate purging of potentially spoiled or tasteless food down the line.

CONTACTS: National Center for Home Food Preparation; Pyrex; Ball; MedicineNet.

 
 

 

Dear EarthTalk: The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to strip the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of its authority over state water quality. Why did they do this, what are the ramifications and what do leading green groups have to say about it?
—Joseph Emory, York, PA

A new bill, passed by the House of Representatives and awaiting vote in the Senate, aims to strip the EPA of its authority over individual states' water quality. Pictured: The Cuyahoga River on fire in 1952. When it happened again in 1969 it helped kick start the modern environmental movement including the establishment of the Clean Water Act and the founding of the EPA.

Photo © Wikipedia

The legislation in question, the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011 (H.R. 2018), passed the House of Representatives this past July with strong support from Republicans and will likely be voted on by the Senate in the Fall. It aims to amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (also known as the Clean Water Act (CWA) in order to give authority over water quality standards back to the states.

The bill’s backers—including most House Republicans and lobbyists for the mountaintop coal mining industry and factory animal farms—claim it will bring jobs to Appalachia and other distressed regions of the country where they say economic growth has been crippled by stringent environmental regulations. The bill would prevent the EPA from overruling decisions made by state regulatory agencies.

“By second-guessing and inserting itself into the states’…standards and permitting decisions, EPA has upset the long-standing balance between federal and state partners in regulating the nation’s waters, and undermined the system of cooperative federalism established under the CWA in which the primary responsibilities for water pollution control are allocated to the states,” says GOP.gov, the website of the Republican majority in Congress. “EPA’s actions have created an atmosphere of regulatory uncertainty for the regulated community, and have had a chilling effect on the nation’s economy and job creation.”

But those opposed to the bill, including the White House and many Congressional Democrats, say that its provisions would undermine stringent federal water quality protections some four decades in the making.

“H.R. 2018 could limit efforts to safeguard communities by removing the Federal Government’s
authority to take action when State water quality standards are not protective of public health,” said the White House after the bill passed in the House by a count of 239-184. Such changes, they added, could adversely impact public health and the environment through increased pollution and degradation of water bodies that provide drinking water, recreation and tourism opportunities, and habitat for fish and wildlife.

For their part, environmental groups couldn’t agree more. “Make no mistake: This bill would take the environmental cop off the beat and put at risk drinking water for millions of people, the habitat for scores of wildlife, and the jobs and economic growth that depends on a safer, cleaner environment,” said Larry Schweiger of the non-profit National Wildlife Federation, adding that, if enacted, the bill would take us “back to a time when rivers caught fire because of rampant pollution.”

Environmentalists are optimistic that backers won’t have enough Senate votes to pass the bill. Meanwhile, President Obama has pledged to veto any such legislation that does make its way across his desk. But political winds shift quickly inside the Beltway, and only time will tell if the bill will gain enough support to withstand a veto. The quality of the nation’s water supply hangs in the balance.

CONTACTS: H.R. 2018, www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h112-2018; U.S. EPA; GOP.gov; National Wildlife Federation.

A SYNDICATED COLUMN ONLY ON AMERICAJR.COM

 

 

SEND IN YOUR QUESTIONS...

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek/, or e-mail: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php.

 

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