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Are Tetra Paks Non-Toxic?

With fall in full force and Thanksgiving looming on the horizon, I started to stock up on some kitchen staples that I don’t buy at other times of the year.  A favorite is pumpkin puree that comes in a shelf-stable box, which I use to make soup.  During the summer it’s easy to eat mostly fresh food but during the colder months, I admittedly look for a few short cuts.  My pumpkin puree got me thinking about aseptic boxed packing, more commonly known by its brand name, Tetra Pak.


I remember when I first started to see items that were typically packaged in aluminum cans cropping up in boxed packaging in the supermarket.  I had sworn off canned food because of concerns about BPA in the lining and was happy to have a safer alternative for the few packaged staples I liked to have on hand.  But my recent pumpkin purchase got me wondering, just how safe are Tetra Paks?


Tetra Paks are made with 75% paperboard, 20% polyethylene, and 5% aluminum and the layers are adhered using heat and pressure.  Polyethylene is the only material that comes in contact with food.  Food-grade polyethylene is considered one of the safest plastics but, as I wrote about in this post, even plastics thought to be safe can leach chemicals with estrogenic activity.



I only found one study that specifically tested Tetra Paks and it concluded that Tetra Paks showed estrogenic contamination similar to that from plastic water bottles.    So, are they any safer than cans?  Cans with BPA lining have been widely tested and are known to leach BPA.  The evidence is clear that they are best avoided.  Read more here about BPA-free cans and why they may not be any safer.  The evidence is not as clear for Tetra Paks, but there is enough to cause concern.  I’ll be keeping my purchases of boxed shelf-stable food to a minimum.  Fortunately, more products are being introduced in glass jars, such as organic diced tomatoes, ready-made soups, and nut milks.  Glass is the safer choice.

IKEA Enameled Pot

Question from Karen

I know that Debra has recommended Le Creuset in  the past and I would love to own one one day, but its just not in the budget for me right now. When I was in Ikea the other day I noticed they have their own enameled steel pot. It says that the materials are just steel and enamel and that there is no lead or cadmium added.
Do you think this is a safe alternative or is there more information that I need?

Lisa’s Answer

The lead can comes from contamination even when it’s not an intentionally added ingredient.  In general, I try to avoid enameled steel cookware.  You can read more in my Ultimate Guide to Non-Toxic Cookware.

Polyester Slip-Covered Chairs

Question from Stacey

I am trying to find affordable, safe, comfortable dining chairs for my family. I see one company makes a slipcovered chair but the slipcover is made of polyester. The foam in the chair is polyurethane and polyester-wrapped.  A customer service rep told me that this company does not add flame retardants to any furniture (Pottery Barn). The slipcovers are washable, which I would wash a couple times before first use. Would you say these chairs are just too toxic and not safe, or would they be okay?

Lisa’s Answer

The foam in the chair is of greater concern than the polyester slipcover.  A chair without flame retardant is safer than the same chair with flame retardant, but there are many other materials of concern.  A sold wood chair with water-based adhesive and finishes is a more cost-efficient and safer bet than one with polyurethane foam.  There are upholstered chairs that are filled with natural latex but they tend to me more expensive.  Here is one I recommend.  You need to chose the Organic Natural latex fill option.

Staub Stoneware

Question from Lisa

Staub is on your list of safe products. But does include their ceramic stone ware rectangular baking dish here?

I read your post about enamel coating- it’s essentially glass sometime mixed with something else.

But this uses “porcelain enamel.” It’s my understanding enamel is as you describe glass based. Porcelain though is clay based. So what is “porcelain enamel.”? Does that meet your safe criteria?

To make it more confusing it’s called “stoneware.” Does that give you an idea what the enamel is coating exactly?

Lisa’s Answer

When buying stoneware the things to watch out for are the clay and lead contamination in the glaze.  I have not seen any testing on this item.  You can call the manufacturer and ask if they have third party testing that shows no lead leaches from their stoneware.

Comfortable Mattress

Question from Karen

I am shopping for a non toxic mattress. Do you have a list of Comfortable mattress that is not drowned in flame retardant ?

Lisa’s Answer

There are many materials to avoid in a mattress in addition to flame retardants.  Start by looking at the mattresses on Debra’s List.  Also, you can type in mattress in the Q&A Super Search, in which many readers have commented on their experiences.  I can guide on the materials but comfort is a personal choice.

New Apartment

Question from John

I moving into a new apartment How shoud i go about storing my clothing, pots, pans, and etc when having to work with an apartment where you cant determine what materials the closets and cabinets are made of or if you know they are made of things such as mdf,particleboard, etc

Lisa’s Answer

I would be more concerned about you breathing in chemical emissions from the mdf, particleboard, etc. then your belongings absorbing the fumes.  I would purchase a good quality air purifier that removes VOCs, such as EnviroKlenz.

Paint Off-Gassing

Question from John

Painters painted our room with eco spec claimed no smell I went in 3 days  later not much smell but I felt poisoned with a headache
Fans going windows opened
I have asthma
Any suggestion? Or experience with this paint?

Lisa’s Answer

I assume you are referring to Benjamin Moore’s Eco Spec line.  According to the MSDS, it has zero VOC (0g/l) for any tint and base combination.  Many paints have zero-VOC bases but add tints with VOCs.  This one does not.  I would keep running the fans with the windows opened as much as possible.  Consider purchasing a good air purifier that removes VOCS such as EnvirKlenz.
Readers, does anyone have experience with this paint?

Vinyl Plank Flooring

Question from David

I was trying to put floor in kitchen called life breath vinyle and have one box in room to test  no odour and voc and philates free   I am mcs so odour big for me   is this floor okay to use  I have filter with hepa and carbon running in room

Lisa’s Answer

I was not able to find information on a product called Life Breath.  If you can find a material safety data sheet (MSDS) on the product I can take a look.  In general, I don’t recommend vinyl plank flooring even if it claims to be free of VOCs and phthalates, especially if you are sensitive.  Products can claim to be VOC-free and phthalate-free if emissions are below a certain level.  This does not necessarily mean there are no emissions.  Read this thread for more information on what readers have tried and the problems they have experienced with vinyl flooring.  Also, you could have a sample tested for formaldehyde.  Andrew Pace from The Green Design Center tests products for formaldehyde emissions for a $100 fee. He has found formaldehyde from samples of flooring that claim to be VOC-free.  If you are intent on using this brand it might worth testing before you install it.

Non-Toxic Kitchens

Question from Pam

Who creates a non-toxic kitchen environment?  IKEA??

Lisa’s Answer

Are you referring to cabinets or all of the items you would find in a kitchen?  IKEA has a chemical policy that limits the use of harmful chemicals in their products but it does not eliminate all chemicals nor does it fully disclose all of the chemicals in each item.  Generally speaking, their products are likely less toxic than items found at traditional retailers but it possible to find products like cabinets that are non-toxic.  Check out Debra’s List for some ideas.  There are many options but it would depend on your price range and whether you want low chemical emissions or no chemical emissions.

Plastics in Hydroponics

Question from TL

I hope u can help provide more educational information related to hydroponics materials used to make the plastic frames, net pots etc. Most sellers claim they are HDPE food grade so totally safe to use at home. But as consumers, how do we know if they are truly HDPE Food Grade materials? My concern is there any such recognized industry standards that the sellers have to produce to substantiate their claims as totally HDPE food grade, safe for human consumption?


Lisa’s Answer

Food Grade materials are regulated in the U.S. by the FDA.  They cannot contain certain dyes or additives or recycled content that are know to be harmful.  However, read this post about plastics and how even food-grade plastics have been shown to leach hormone-disrupting chemicals.  Food-grade plastic may be safer than regular plastic but that does not mean that it is safe.  I’m not sure if manufactures are require to provide to consumers certification of food-grade status, but you could ask.


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