Vegetables in storage containers

Kitchen organization has gotten much easier. We have stackable food storage containers in every shape and size. They are convenient, portable and reusable. But are we paying for this convenience with our health?

How safe are food storage containers?

Knowledge is key when it comes to choosing which types of plastic we should be storing our food in. By following a few simple steps, you can be well on your way to ridding your kitchen of easily avoidable chemicals that could be harmful to you and your family's health.

Rid your kitchen of known harmful chemicals

Flip over your food storage containers and take a look at the small number printed on the bottom. If the recycling number is #3 or #7, it likely contains either BPA (bisphenol A) or phthalates (used to make PVC plastics) which mimic estrogen and can interfere with hormone levels. These can be especially harmful for still-developing bodies so, unless the container clearly states that it is BPA and PVC-free, the safest thing to do is to get rid of them. Canada and the European Union have already banned BPA use in baby bottles and many people, including me, are not going to wait around for the U.S. to follow suit. If you don't want to part with your plastics completely, be sure that your containers are either #2, #4 or #5, which are widely considered safe for food storage.

Never reheat food in plastic

Even if your food containers are labeled as one of the safe plastics, always transfer food to a glass or china dish before reheating in the microwave. All plastics contain possible harmful chemicals, and when heated, those chemicals can leech onto the food that is next to them. Take-out containers are one of the worst culprits when it comes to plastics that contain toxic elements, so never reheat food in those containers.

Take care when washing plastic

Dishwashers use very hot water and steam to clean dishes thoroughly -- which leaves us with sparkling plates and glasses -- but can unfortunately pose a problem when it comes to plastics. Just like microwaving, heating plastic can release harmful chemicals, so play it safe and wash your plastic containers by hand in lukewarm water.

Start switching to glass

If you're using food storage containers that are made from safe plastics, no need to do a total kitchen overhaul and throw all of your plastic away. It is a good idea, however, to start making a gradual shift over to glass containers. There are a lot of high quality and affordable options out there. The best are those that are made completely of glass, including the lids. When taking food on the go, try glass containers that have snug fitting plastic lids -- that are BPA and PVC-free, of course.

More tips for a greener kitchen

Eco-friendly kitchenware
How to green your kitchen
Go green in the kitchen


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Comments on "Hidden dangers of food storage containers"

Kimberly Gill February 07, 2014 | 9:27 AM

What about stoneware and your average pottery? I have gone to a goodwill store and wanted to buy some of the pottery for my fermenting or simple storage but I was afraid something toxic would leach into my food. I hear there was some concern with lead but I can not tell what has lead, what doesn't and if I find something at goodwill that would work well with... say fermented sourcrout I really want to get that simply because it is pretty and costs a LOT less than I can get it somewhere else. Pots are perfect to keep light out.

Adrianne December 16, 2013 | 1:11 PM

Don't ever microwave food. The proteins in the food become distorted and the body does not recognize these "new" proteins and sets up an immune reaction - This over stresses your immune system. Research has been done and it was found that people who use the microwave for heating their food suffer many health problems, including a form of anemia.

Robert smith June 08, 2013 | 1:19 PM

Get rid of all your plastics, they constantly release their chemical make-up at every temperature: cooler, slower- hotter faster, not just BPA and EA, but many polymers that are toxic. Any one know the long term effects of smoking? You do now.

Amit February 08, 2013 | 9:43 PM

I am not satisfied with your article since it generalizes and puts all plastics in the same category. I agree that there are plastics which aren't safe especially when reheating the food, however there are containers made with specific plastics like Eastman Tritan, that are perfectly safe to use and do not leech any harmful chemicals. Articles like these put several businesses at risk. I believe that if you were to outline the risks of plastics, it should have been more specific and should also include links to reports/lab tests that you may have conducted prior to writing this. As far as BPA is concerned, most PolyCarbonates (PO) have less than half a percent which is leechable at upwards of 180 degrees Celsius, now unless you plan on putting your food container directly on the stove, there is nothing unsafe about it. If you like I can also provide links for such studies.

Rachel Dreskin (author) June 07, 2012 | 6:00 AM

Scott, thanks for your question! The hot water that dishwashers clean with can break down plastics and cause chemicals to leach out. I can not answer definitively as to whether they will leach onto your food after the container and the food has cooled, but I would stand to reason that once the plastic has begun to break down, the possibility for the transfer of toxins is there. If you want to play it safe, I would suggest trying to avoid cleaning plastics in high heat.

Scott June 05, 2012 | 10:29 PM

I appreciate your article and I'm writing to see if you could elaborate on the plastics in the dishwasher comment. What's the issue if the food makes contact with the plastic containers after going through a cleaning cycle if both are ambient or cool temperatures?

Cher March 01, 2012 | 4:01 PM

Plastics labeled with a #7 is in the category of "other". The plastic may contain BPA, and/or polycarbonates. The article is quite accurate. I choose not to use the plastics and I believe in information so we can make our own choices.

DP February 26, 2012 | 6:43 AM

Stating that the #7 means it likely contains either BPA (bisphenol A) or phthalates (used to make PVC plastics) is simply NOT accurate. I know that Rubbermaid has many products that are in the #7 category that do not contain either. You should do your research before making such inaccurate statements

AS January 28, 2012 | 12:19 PM

Glass contains lead, which also leaches out into food and liquid!!! Be very careful before you make blanket statements to ditch plastic and use is a question of 'choose your poison'!

Mitzi A January 26, 2012 | 9:33 PM

Invest in sets of glass Pyrex round or rectangular containers with tight lids. Advantages: The 3 sizes nest, conserving cupboard space; stackable in the refrigerator and freezer, conserving space, and can be cooked or reheated in the oven or microwave with no cover. Perfect.

Rachel Dreskin (author) January 26, 2012 | 5:12 PM

Trish, Thanks for your question! Since your daughter's daycare is probably concerned about glass containers/bottles slipping and shattering, it might be worth asking the management if they would allow glass bottles that have a silicone grip (Lifefactory makes great high-quality glass bottles and grips). If they don't go for it, or if she is eating food out of regular storage containers, just be sure the containers are BPA-free and are labeled as a #2, #4 or #5 plastic.

Trish January 25, 2012 | 7:12 PM

My 6 month old is in daycare and they do not allow us to bring in glass containers. Her food needs to be heated prior to eating. What is safe to store and heat the food in in this scenario?

Rachel Dreskin (author) January 21, 2012 | 12:24 PM

Ariella, I'm so glad you like the article! I agree with tiffanyabrownaverill that freezing foods in wide mouthed glass mason jars (leaving a little room for expansion) is the best way to store foods that you are preparing in bulk. As far as releasing the frozen food from the jars, I place the jar in a bowl that is filled with warm water. In a few minutes you should be able to slip the food right out into the pot. Thanks for the comments - and happy cooking!

tiffanyabrownaverill January 21, 2012 | 8:10 AM

I use mason jars to freeze liquids. Just make sure you leave an inch at the top for expansion as your liquid freezes.

Ariella January 20, 2012 | 7:46 AM

Great article! I have some glass containers than I absolutely love and would really like to switch over to them. Since I prepare a lot of liquid foods in bulk and then freeze, what is best way to store these kinds of foods? Like pasta sauce and soup. Currently I use plastic and then often have to microwave it for 1 minute in order to slip it out of the container and into a glass dish or pot. My friends use plastic bags. What are your thoughts on that?

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