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Plastic has gotten a bad rap in recent years, in more ways than one. Among those that have given plastic a bad name: the news that plastic actually isn’t safe for storing food.
This news was quite jarring when it first surfaced, and understandably so. For years people had been using plastic for storing all kinds of food and beverages, even food for babies. To discover that it actually isn’t safe for storing food is bewildering, as this has been one of its primary uses for many years.
But is it really, totally unsafe? Are all plastics to be completely shunned when it comes to food storage?
As ‘evil’ as plastic has been perceived, the truth is not all plastics are bad. What was found in some of them that were really dangerous and made them unsafe for storing food were a couple of specific chemicals, namely bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates. These chemicals were added to many rigid plastic containers, including baby bottles and water bottles. Later studies showed that these chemicals can lead to a slew of health issues, including immune deficiencies, metabolic and hormonal abnormalities, behavioural issues, and even brain damage. Because of this, plastics that contained these chemicals were deemed totally unsafe for food storage.
What people failed to realise was that not all plastics contained these harmful chemicals, and some are actually completely harmless when used properly.
Several types of plastic have been found to have no health hazards whatsoever, and are therefore safe for use in storing food. These include Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), high density polyethylene (HDPE), Low density polyethylene (LDPE) and Polypropylene (PP). These plastics are often used to make plastic containers with lids, food storage boxes, bags for bread, cereals and frozen foods, jars for spreads, and takeaway containers.
A lot of people prefer to stay safe and avoid plastic food containers entirely, but doing so can be difficult. Plastic containers are the most common and easily available food containers in the hospitality industry, and having to provide, purchase or constantly bring your own non-plastic alternatives can be costly and a hassle.
An easy way to keep yourself safe when using plastics for food storage is to check the recycling code or number found on the bottom of plastics. With polyethylene you will see a number 2 in the middle of the small triangle recycling symbol, while on polypropylene you’ll see a number 5. Containers with a number 4 and 6 are also quite safe; what you really want to avoid are those labelled with a number 3 or 7. These tend to appear on plastic containers that contain BPA or phthalates.
Many companies have become more aware of the harmful chemicals found in some plastic containers, and have made steps to label their products when these are BPA- and phthalate-free. With these labelled containers of course, you can be sure that your food will stay safe and fresh.
To stay on the safe side, it would also be best to follow a few care and usage tips:
There’s no need to fear plastics when it comes to food storage. With proper identification and handling, they can be very safe, useful and convenient containers to keep your food nice and fresh for longer.