Keeping food safe when using plastic containers

Keep your leftover food safe when using plastic containers by following these tips.

Watermelon in a plastic tub.
Photo: Pixabay.

The art of meal prepping and storing leftovers for next day’s lunch are a convenience for many families. It is also a great 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 food storage. Although they cut down on food waste, some containers may 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. 

Use food grade plastic containers. A food grade container is one that will not transfer non-food chemicals into the food. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, non-food grade plastic containers may contaminate food. Plastic food containers must follow specific regulations to make sure they are safe for food.

Use single-use containers once. Plastics designed for single use should be used only once. Plastic breaks down over time, and some items 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. Instead of reusing these plastics, transfer your food to specific containers designed for storing or reheating meals.

Wash plastic containers by hand. Only put plastics into the dishwasher if they have a dishwasher-safe label. Plastic containers may also be washed by hand. Make sure the grooves around the openings are clean so pathogens do not contaminate other food. When washing the plastic containers, be aware of any lids that no longer seal well, or the container is worn and has scratches, cracks or has become misshaped should no longer be used.  If washing does not remove odors that plastic containers absorb, these containers should be disposed of.

Only freeze food in plastic containers designed for the freezer. Only put plastics in the freezer if they have a freezer-safe label. Single use containers, such as ice cream or milk cartons, should be avoided for freezer use. According to MSU Extension, use containers in the freezer that are moisture-vapor resistant, leak proof, and easy to seal.

Use appropriate food containers for the microwave. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends to only use containers that are specially manufactured for microwave use. Glass, ceramic and certain plastics are safe for microwaving if they are labeled as “microwave safe.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture warns against microwaving in single-use containers not intended for that purpose, such as yogurt cartons, margarine tubs or foam-insulated cups.

Following these recommendations will help to prevent illness and to keep your food safe. For more information on keeping your family's food safe, visit MSU Extension's Safe Food & Water website.

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