Keeping food safe: Choosing food storage containers

Keeping your food safe at home requires proper storage containers. This information will assist you when using food storage containers.

Storing leftovers is a traditional way to extend the pleasures of family gatherings, parties or holiday meals. Many kitchens are well stocked with plastic tubs, cling wrap and other containers when it comes to these festivities. Although they cut down on food waste, some containers pose more of a burden on the environment and potentially to your health, than others. The Public Health and Safety Organization NSF and Michigan State University Extension offer consumers suggestions for food storage containers. MSU Extension recommends choosing the correct containers for intended use and storage of food properly to keep it safe and fresh.

Use the container for its intended purpose. A food grade container is one that will not transfer non-food chemicals into the food, and contains no chemicals which would be hazardous to human health. Plastics designed for single use should be used only once. Plastic breaks down over time and some are not designed to withstand heating and cooling. Most plastics with recycling code number “one” are intended for single use, such as disposable water bottles. In general, they are fine for refrigerating leftovers, but are not designed for heat exposure or long-term use. There are specific containers designed for steaming and carrying meals that are microwaved before eating. Each piece made from BPA-free plastic is designed for easy storage and some may feature a freezer-tray or lid to provide built-in cooling capability. Remember to reheat leftovers to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Wash by hand. Only put plastics into the dishwasher if they have a dishwasher safe label. If you want to be extra cautious, wash all plastics by hand or use only glass containers. In the dishwasher, plastics exposed to detergents and heat may accelerate the leaching of BPA from food containers. Pay attention to lids that may contain seals, over time these deteriorate, become loosened or could collect pathogens. A tight secure seal is desirable.

Do not freeze. Only put plastics in the freezer if they have a freezer safe label. Freezer temperatures can cause plastics to deteriorate, which increases the leaching of chemicals into the food when you take containers out of the freezer to thaw or reheat.

The microwave and food containers: While a "microwave safe" or "microwavable" label on plastic containers only means that they should not melt, crack or fall apart when used in the microwave, the label is no guarantee that containers don't leach chemicals into foods when heated. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also warns against microwaving in single-use containers not intended for that purpose, such as takeout platters and margarine tubs.

Following these recommendations will help to prevent illness and to keep your food safe for that first or second helping.

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