Does your dishwasher smell oddly stinky? Fake Plastic Fish enviro-blogger Beth Terry’s did — and her efforts to de-stinkify her kitchen led to a more toxic discovery: Food packaging labels are often stuck on with toxic chemicals.

Beth Terry and her husband took a gander at their dishwasher filter to find a mess of old veggies and paper pulp from labels on empty glass jars that Beth wanted to reuse. Why did the paper labels stay intact and sticky enough to trap food bits from going through the filter? Because the paper was treated with non-water soluble adhesives.

That stinky situation and a tweet from a fellow blogger, Jennifer Taggert of The Smart Mama, led Beth to delve into a study about label adhesives on food packaging from the University of Zaragoza, Spain, published last month by the Royal Society of Chemistry in The Journal of Materials Chemistry. That study looked at 11 compounds used in adhesives and found that four of the compounds — including a chemical dubbed 2,4,7,9-Tetramethyldec-5-yne-4,7-diol that’s known to be highly toxic to humans — migrated into the food.

The compounds were most likely to migrate through plastic packaging, which means that the sauces and other food Beth originally ate out of her glass jars were likely untainted. However, Beth’s efforts to reuse these jars may have been tainted, because her dishwasher filter has been tainted with the adhesives on the paper labels that got stuck.

“What’s more, I would have been flushing those chemicals into our water ways,” writes Beth. “I’ve been so careful to buy the least toxic dishwasher detergent, never dreaming there were other sources of toxic chemicals to consider.”

What can you do to protect yourself from these chemicals? First and foremost, get behind the Safe Chemicals Act, and help pass national legislation to ensure better oversight over the use of chemicals in consumer goods. Then when shopping, try to cut down on processed, overpackaged food products — especially those with plastic packaging — and remember not to microwave food in plastic containers.

And if you like to reuse glass jars, do what Beth plans to do from now on: “First, if only to avoid clogging up the dishwasher, we won’t be putting jars with labels in there anymore. And second, after soaking the jars to loosen the labels, I’ll be wearing rubber gloves to remove them.”

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