I know this post is long overdue. I’ve been learning so much, rethinking so much and just plain avoiding it because my brain hurts. Plus I have to admit, I don’t like giving bad reviews of products.
A recap: A few months ago I posted instructions for making a DIY Airlock System for your mason jars. I thought I was pretty clever. I had been searching for a while for the perfect lid to create this airlock idea that I had in my head (turns out there are a few products on the market like this anyway). I happened across the Tattler Lids and thought this was it, exactly what I envisioned. Drill a hole in the top, pop in a grommet and airlock and voila, cheap airlock system. The lids are marketed for canning food products so it didn’t even occur to me that they might not be safe. Boy was I wrong.
A Natural Canning Resource Book addresses the formaldehyde problem in the lids,
Tattler lids are composed of polyoxymethylene copolymer, an acctal copolymer. Copolymers are linked plastics which contain two or more ingredients. I asked my father, retired organic chemist Dennis Rayner, to help me analyze this compound. He noted that the copolymer is made from a trimer of formaldehyde (three formaldehyde molecules joined together in a ring) called trioxane and other variations. Formaldehyde is a highly-toxic substance long known to be carcinogenic. Some of the secondary additives are also potentially dangerous to human health and the environment…
Theoretically, the bonding process prevents loose formaldehyde from seeping into food. However, that was the same claim made for bisphenol-A. While S&S does not say which company manufactures the plastic, BASF Corporation is one supplier. BASF Corporation notes that, “The product is odorless, although a small amount of formaldehyde may be noticed when a box of pellets are first opened.” This is incontrovertable evidence of the presence of non-bonded formaldehyde.
Rayner says, “Thermal degradation of the copolymers will release formaldehyde.” The FDA requires that the use temperature of this plastic not exceed 250F/121C. That’s only 10F/5.6C higher than the standard pressure canning temperature. Rayner says that 10F is not enough of a safety margin. At 240F/116C, formaldehyde may still leach into food, just more slowly.
The kicker that really got me is the fact that you can smell the formaldehyde when you open a package of lids. Don’t tell me it’s only released under high heat or alcohol if I can smell it straight out of the package.
Other concerns are how the plastic reacts with ferments. While the food itself should not actually touch the plastic, the gases do touch the food and the plastic. As far as I know, these lids have not been tested with ferments. “The plastic is vulnerable to corrosion by strong acids and cholorine: the lids should never be soaked in chlorine solution or highly acidic cleansers. Even more frightening, the chlorine in tap water is enough to cause some leaching. ” Ferments are acidic. Enough said.
What’s wrong with formaldehyde? You can read about formaldehyde exposure off the OSHA Formaldehyde FactSheet. According to the National Cancer Institute, “Formaldehyde has been classified as a known human carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and as a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Research studies of workers exposed to formaldehyde have suggested an association between formaldehyde exposure and several cancers, including nasopharyngeal cancer and leukemia.”
I threw out all my lids about a week ago. I had been saving them just in case the rumors I was hearing about them were not true or just exaggerated but I’m convinced now. Like so many things, money speaks and the plastics industry is so huge I no longer trust when something is labeled “food grade”. Not only did I throw out my lids (all 3 dozen of them) but I emptied out my tupperware cabinet. All plastic food storage items are sitting in my trash can outside right now.
I’m not saying all plastic is horrible. I don’t know that with certainty, but from what I know about this plastic in particular, I don’t want it anywhere near my ferments where it could be leaching out formaldehyde. I’m not planning on going overboard and shunning all plastic just yet but I am taking steps to remove it from my house.
I am truly sad about this because the system really wasn’t all that bad. It wasn’t as airtight as a truly hermetically sealed system like a Pickl-It jar but it was a big improvement over the loosely lidded system I started out with. The ferments I made with them turned out lovely and much better than my former open air system.
Please be aware that there are systems available on the market that are made using these lids. If you insist on using mason jar airlock systems, I would very highly advise you to avoid any system that uses this plastic. These are the ones that use a Tattler lid (they may not say it’s a Tattler) and your own metal ring to tighten it down. I don’t feel comfortable using them with my own foods and I would not recommend them for anyone else either. Right now I don’t feel comfortable using any plastic whatsoever with my ferments, food grade or not.
ETA: I’ve been asked what I’m using in place of plastics now that it’s all in the trash. I’m slowly collecting Fido jars to replace all my plastic containers and as far as I know, Pickl-It Jars and Harsch Crocks (and similar crocks) are the only plastic free fermenting containers on the market.
“The Natural Canning Resource Book: A Guide to Home Canning with Locally-grown, Sustainably-produced and Fair Trade Foods” By Lisa Rayner, pg 60-61
National Cancer Institute http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/formaldehyde
OSHA Formaldehyde Fact Sheet http://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_General_Facts/formaldehyde-factsheet.pdf
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