Many foods and drinks come in packaging that’s just not practical to use on a daily basis and which won’t keep the content fresh once the packaging is opened./p>
That’s easy enough to fix… You just buy some storage containers and put the food in them to keep it nice and fresh and healthy, right?
And most food containers nowadays can be placed in the freezer and microwave, saving you from having to dirty your cookwear and other storage containers, right?
And being the 21st century most of the containers you’ll look at are plastic, right?
But does it really matter what sort of plastic storage containers you place your food and drink in? Yes it does!
There is growing concern in the medical community, based on credible research from multiple studies in a number of countries, that certain types of plastics are poisoning the food we put in them.
This happens through a process called “leaching”, where certain chemicals in the plastic transfer across to whatever is in contact with it, in this case being food and drink which you then consume.
There’s also mounting evidence to suggest that the rate of leaching increases when certain plastics are heated, such as in a microwave, in the sun, by hot food or drink being placed in them or when the plastic is scratched or cracked.
What this means for you is that you need to ensure that you buy the right sort of plastic storage container for the task at hand, or a storage container made from a safe alternate, proven material.
If you want to play it totally safe, then buy storage containers for your food and drink made of glass or ceramic.
Neither glass nor ceramic is suspected of causing health problems and most food containers made from them are nowadays microwave and dishwasher safe. Just check before you buy.
In many cases a glass or ceramic container will last far longer than a plastic one will, making it more economical in the long run.
Glass and ceramic can also usually be kept cleaner than plastic, which tends to discolour over time, particularly if you regularly use it in a microwave to cook foods that more readily stain, such as tomatoes and other foods with higher sugar and/or acidic content.
Glass and ceramic also mark less easily than plastic and if it does, there are no known health concerns if you continue to use it.
These qualities will more than make up for the advantages of plastic, such as its pliability, lightness, being hard to break and, for some plastics, its resistance to a range of temperatures from the freezer to the microwave.
However, if you still decide you want plastic storage containers for your food and cooking needs then there are some plastics that have raised few, if any, concerns amongst the medical community.
The safest plastics are identified by the recycling number on the container. This is usually stamped on the bottom of the container, but can also be found on the lid in some instances. The recycling number appears in or next to a triangle.
The recycling number is based on the type of plastic used, or more correctly, the chemicals and compounds in that plastic.
There are seven (7) types of plastic commonly used by today’s manufacturers and four (4) of them have no known risk when used in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations to store food and drink.
If you don’t use the plastic container in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations then your safe plastic food container could become potentially dangerous over time.
The seven (7) types of plastic as identified by their recycling number, common uses and known risks:
1 – Single use containers, such as disposable water, juice, soda & soft drink bottles, some jars, such as for spreads and condiments, and some squeezable bottles, such as for honey.
No known risk if used as intended – once only. Some concern over possible leaching with extended use, so dispose of after original contents are finished.
2 – Milk & juice containers, yoghurt cartons, supplement bottles, margarine tubs and some plastic bags.
No known risk.
3 – Clear food packaging, such as refillable containers, lunch boxes, some cling wrap, some squeeze bottles and some condiment and spread jars.
Increasing concern over potential leaching. Avoid where possible, particularly if heating or hot food or drink is involved.
4 – Bread bags, frozen food bags, some squeezable bottles, such as for honey or mustard, microwave safe cling wrap, grocery bags and some bottles.
No known risk.
5 – Dishwasher & microwave safe reusable containers, takeaway containers, ready to eat fruit containers, kids cups, ketchup bottles, yoghurt cartons, margarine tubs, straws and some baby bottles.
Has a high melting point and therefore is safe for heating food in the microwave and can go in the dishwasher. No known risk of chemical leaching.
6 – Meat trays, disposable cups & plates, Styrofoam cups, egg cartons, carryout containers and opaque plastic cutlery.
Concern over leaching of chemicals, particularly if stored for a long time, particularly over one (1) year, and when used for hot liquids or foods. Avoid where possible.
7 – Most baby bottles (unless labelled bisphenol-A (BPA) free), sippy cups, children’s hard plastic plates & bowls.
While not all plastics marked 7 contain BPA you will often not know. To be safe avoid them all.
If you stick to storing your food in containers marked 5 then, based on what is known today, you should be safe, even if you use these containers in the microwave, for hot food and drink or wash them in the dishwasher.
It also appears that plastic containers marked 2 and 4 are safe for you over the longer term, so long as you don’t put them in your microwave or use them for hot food or drink. You will also need to avoid washing them in your dishwasher or with hot water.
It also appears to be prudent to dispose of your plastic containers marked 2, 4 or 5 if they become scratched or cracked.
Finally, here’s a few more tips when selecting and using plastic containers for your food and drink needs:
Avoid plastics that are not marked with a recycling number.
Buy a bottle marked 5 or a stainless steel bottle that you can keep refilling for you drinking water/sports drink needs.
Baby bottles – use BPA-free bottles or glass bottles.
Buy your meat and fish from the butcher and fishmonger directly to avoid the plastic trays and wrapping used by the supermarkets, or if you can’t do this, transfer the meat and fish to a suitable storage container as soon as you get it home.