New Plastic Tea Bags Are Potentially Toxic

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Writing for the Atlantic, Los Angeles based journalist Taylor Orci raises some serious questions about the safety of the new tea bags some companies are using.

These so-called flow-through Infuser bags are described as having an innovative and revolutionary design that will unseat and overthrow the paper tea bag in favor of their new plastic model — yes plastic.

Unbeknownst to many tea drinking aficionados, many companies are changing from traditional paper tea bags, to triangular shaped silk or mesh tea bags made with plastics, nylon, or compounded fibers that are potentially toxic to your health.

Plastic tea bags are most commonly made from food grade nylon or polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which some suggest are safe plastics, but if that was the case, then why would drinking water in polyethylene terephthalate bottles be banned in some cities?

Additionally, when steeping tea in plastic tea bags made with polyethylene terephthalate, chemical toxins may leak into the tea water because the melting point for PET and food grade nylon is lower than the temperature of boiling water.

Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius). In the case of PET, what’s known as the glass transition point (Tg) is about 169 degrees, and the breakdown point of nylon is even lower than PET.

“If the question is, ‘As the polymer goes through that transition state, is it easier for something to leach out?’ ‘the answer is yes,’ said Dr. Ray Fernando, professor and director of polymers and coatings at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo,”

In other words, the molecules in these plastic tea bags may break down and leach out when steeped in boiling water.

Taylor cites a 2009 study which found that single-use PET plastic water bottles were found to have estrogen-mimicking pollutants in them. Such toxins have been linked to cancer.

“If PET is found in these water bottles, the same material Lipton claims to use in their plastic tea bags, it’s fair to say there is a chance these tea bags are leaching toxins into the tea they’re brewing.”

Traditional Paper Tea Bags Are Even Worse

Paper tea bags are treated with epichlorohydrin: a carcinogenic substance found in pesticides associated with male infertility and decreased immune function.

Dow Chemical is one of the largest producers of epichlorohydrin. According to safety literature from Dow, it’s a very dangerous chemical that requires using extra precautions when handling.

“The chemical can turn into a carcinogen when water is added. There are many unanswered questions with respect to the potential hazards of using this chemical in products specifically designed to be used with boiling water.”

Simple guidelines for making a safe, “perfect” cup of tea, courtesy of Dr. Mercola:

1. Bring water to a boil in a tea kettle (avoid using a non-stick pot, as they too can release harmful chemicals when heated).

2. Preheat your tea pot or cup to prevent the water from cooling too quickly when transferred. Simply add a small amount of boiling water to the pot or tea cup that you’re going to steep the tea in. Ceramic and porcelain retain heat well. Then cover the pot or cup with a lid. Add a tea cozy if you have one, or drape with a towel. Let stand until warm, then pour out the water.

3. Put the tea into an infuser, strainer, or add loose into the tea pot. Steeping without an infuser or strainer will produce a more flavorful tea. Start with one heaped teaspoon per cup of tea, or follow the instructions on the tea package. The robustness of the flavor can be tweaked by using more or less tea.

4. Add boiling water. Use the correct amount for the amount of tea you added (i.e. for four teaspoons of tea, add four cups of water). The ideal water temperature varies based on the type of tea being steeped:

A) White or green teas (full leaf): Well below boiling (170-185 F or 76-85 C). Once the water has been brought to a boil, remove from heat and let the water cool for about 30 seconds for white tea and 60 seconds for green tea before pouring it over the leaves.

B) Oolongs (full leaf): 185-210 F or 85-98 C

C) Black teas (full leaf) and Pu-erhs:
Full rolling boil (212 F or 100 C).

5. Cover the pot with a cozy and let steep. Follow steeping instructions on the package. If there are none, here are some general steeping guidelines. Taste frequently as you want it to be flavorful but not bitter:

A) Oolong teas: 4-7 minutes

B) Black teas: 3-5 minutes

C) Green teas: 2-3 minutes

6. Once desired flavor has been achieved you need to remove the strainer or infuser. If using loose leaves, pour the tea through a strainer into your cup and any leftover into another vessel (cover with a cozy to retain heat).

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Spence Cooper
Inquisitive foodie with a professional investigative background and strong belief in the organic farm to table movement. Author of Bad Seeds: A FriendsEAT Guide to GMO's. Buy Now!
Spence Cooper


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