Health and Wellness

How safe is your food in a plastic box?

Anurima
All age groups

Created by Anurima
Updated on Jun 20, 2013

How safe is your food in a plastic box

Plastic- A product found in each and every household, whether in the form of a bag, a bottle or a container. We all are aware of the damage plastic can cause to the environment as it is a product that takes years to decompose. We all are aware that the chemicals from plastic can find their way into the food chain causing health hazards but …. But how often do we stop to think any of the following?
• Are the plastic containers that we use on a daily basis safe for heating and storing food?
• Do they have an age, after which using those containers or water bottles are unsafe for use?
• What are the health risks associated with continuous use of plastic containers?
I may not be aware of the exact answers to any of the above questions but when I look at some of the plastic containers in the kitchen, very often the questions flood my mind. I often refill and reuse packaged drinking water bottles (I am a firm believer of recycling) as I find them convenient to use within the house or carry along when stepping out. But there have been a couple of times when I noticed a strange odour in the water and It is then, that I decided to find for myself, when should we discard the plastic that we use on a daily basis.
What are the commonly used plastics?
Plastic is used in packaging food products all over the world from milk to fresh vegetables. The following are commonly used plastics, which are considered to be safe when in contact with a food item. The numbers and symbols are standards set by the FDA (U.S Food and Drug Association) and one may see below most of the plastic products available in the local market in India.
1. Polyethylene Terephthalate or PET: Most of the carbonated drinks, packaged drinking waters and juices are packed in PET bottles. They are known to have better gas containing properties than other plastics.
2. High-Density polyethylene or HDPE: This type of plastic is used to line milk and juice cartons. They are known for their moisture resistant properties.
3. Polyvinyl Chloride or PVC: These are commonly seen in Cling wraps, which we use to wrap food products. They are strong and allow oxygen to pass through thereby keeping the food fresh for longer.
4. Low-Density polyethylene or LDPE: These are very similar to HDPE but are more flexible. They are used to make squeeze bottles (for example; soft bottles used to store ketchup in fast food joints) and tubes (for example; mayonnaise sold in tubes).
5. Polypropylene or PP: They are used for products which are bottled hot and then allowed to cool. This type of plastic can stand high temperatures and do not melt easily. Products such as ketchups and other sauces are packed in bottles made from PP.
6. Polystyrene or PS: They are excellent insulators and are commonly used to make coffee cups (little plastic cups which we drink coffee in from take away stands) and egg cartons.
7. Other: This group includes materials such as acrylic, fibre glass, nylon and polycarbonate. These materials are not commonly used in packaging food. Therefore, products containing any of the above materials need to have a specific mention of it being a ‘food grade’ product.
How do we spot a food grade plastic?
The standards set for plastic usage for food and non food products by the FDA are universally accepted. Food grade plastic should not contain dyes or recycled plastic, which are considered harmful to humans.
All plastic plates, tumblers, containers, buckets, bottles should have a symbol at the bottom denoting the material used in their manufacture. This is done to ensure that people can easily recognise whether the product is safe when it comes in contact with food.

Safe: Products with the following symbols can be safely used with food. No known health concerns have been associated with them.

Use with Caution: Products with the following should not be reused or exposed to high temperatures such as hot water or used in the microwave.

Avoid: The products with the following symbols should be avoided as they are known to be toxic and may cause serious health issues if used regularly with food.
In addition to avoiding use of products with the above symbols, we may also avoid using plastic products without any symbols or indication of what type of plastic has been used to manufacture it.

Brining and Marinating
It is a common practice in many households and food service joints to marinate or brine (salt water solution) meat/fish in large plastic buckets. When the food grade status of a product is not known, it should never be used for handling, storing or heating food. Brining or marinating may release acid and fats from the meat, which reacts with the plastic it is stored in and consequently, the food can pose serious health risks when consumed.
The following need to be completely avoided for brining or marinating food in large quantities:
• HDPE containers, mostly white in colour and with unknown food grade status.
• Garbage cans
• Buckets used for mopping
• Pet food or cat litter buckets
• Buckets or cans used to store detergents
• Garbage Bags
• Household storage containers
• Any container (even food grade ones) which has been used to store products such as paints, chemicals or detergents
A few other symbols commonly seen on food grade plastics are:

Are there risks in reusing take away containers and disposable cutlery?
The answer is yes!
• Containers which we get take away food in from restaurants should be discarded after the food has been transferred. It is very common for people (including myself) to reuse those containers time after time. Ideally the food should be transferred into a ceramic or a glass bowl immediately after it is brought home. Then it can be stored in the fridge or reheated. Leaving the food in the same container especially when it is warm, may make it react with the plastic. Washing and reusing those containers should also be avoided as they are only for one time use and need to be discarded.
• We may also be easily tempted to reuse disposable crockery, cutlery and plastic cups. Those are again meant for one time use and may pose as a risk to one’s health if reused as the plastic will not be able to withstand the repeated heating and washing making the chemicals leach into the food.

What are the health concerns related to reusing plastic containers?

• Bisphenol A or BPA is a one of the main chemical used in the making of water bottles. Research has shown that BPA can leach into the water or food from the container. Exposure to BPA can lead to cancer, obesity, diabetes, immune disorder and hyperactivity.
• BPA is also found on baby bottles. They are effective in making the bottles resistant to bacteria. However, long term exposure may have harmful effects on an infant’s health.
• Polyvinyl Chloride or PVC found in Cling wraps and similar products which are used to wrap food are believed to be harmless as they contain very low levels of chemicals. However, heating a food wrapped in PVC cover may allow the chemicals to mix in with the food. Long term exposure to the chemicals may result in serious health issues.
Tips to safely use and maintain plastic containers:
1. Familiarize yourself with the codes: Look out for the safety codes under the plastic products and also avoid products containing BPA.
2. Limit heating food in plastic in the microwave: ‘Microwave safe’ products are also proven to release very little chemicals into the food. Glass or ceramic bowls are better alternatives.
3. Wash by hand: All plastic containers may not stand the heat when washed in a dishwasher. Hand washing them is always a better alternative.
4. Freezing: Only containers safe for freezing can be used in a freezer. All plastics cannot stand the extreme temperature and may deteriorate if frozen, making chemical pass onto the food.
5. Avoid direct contact of food with plastic wrap: Heating food with cling wrap may make the wrap melt. You may use a paper towel instead.
6. Watch out for wear and tear: Containers should be replaced at the first sign of them discolouring, turning cloudy or developing cracks.
7. Use clear plastic over coloured ones: Clear plastics are safer than coloured ones. Colour from the plastic can easily leach into the food, especially when the food is hot.
8. Sterilizing and using baby bottles: Baby bottles may be sterilized according to the instructions and allowed to cool down before pouring in liquid.
9. Non reusable containers: Plastics designed for single use should be discarded after one use. These types of plastics are not intended for repeated use and they may breakdown releasing chemicals if reused. Heating liquids or pouring a hot liquid into soft drink/mineral water bottles may melt the plastic from within and allow chemicals to leach into the liquid. On a couple of occasions, I have poured some fresh tamarind chutney into one. A safer option is to crush and recycle them.
10. When in doubt about whether a plastic container is food grade or not, you may avoid using it for food and may consider discarding it.

How to remove food odour and stains from plastic containers?
1. Mix one tablespoon of baking soda, mix well with warm soapy water. Cover and leave it overnight in the container.
2. Wash the container with warm soapy water. Hot water may help retain the odour.
3. You may also use some vinegar mixed with cold water. This mixture may be left for 4-5 hours and then rinsed.
4. The containers may be left out under direct sunlight to dry thoroughly.
5. If the stains or odours do not go away after this, you may need to discard the container.

A few facts:
• Not all HDPE containers are food grade.
• Polypropylene or PP is ideal for making lids and covers as it has a high tensile strength. PP is considered among the safer plastics due to its high melting points. Ketchups, chutneys and sauces are normally packaged in PP containers. PP is used in products such as Tupperware and Rubbermaid containers.
• Recycled plastic safe for humans are used to manufacture food grade plastic containers.

Little changes can go a long way in ensuring good health and good habits among our children and the family.
Precaution is better than cure—Edward Coke

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| May 10, 2017

very informative blog..

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| Aug 22, 2016

very informative...... but what about Tupperware n school tiffins n bottles ..

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| Mar 13, 2016

What about tupper ware?? Wats the symbols?

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| Mar 13, 2016

What about tupper ware??

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| Oct 19, 2015

Very informative ...

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| Sep 07, 2015

V. Important information , we should try to change now .

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| Jul 31, 2015

Normally in offices, you have microwave for heating food. What should be done. Is it safe to use microwaves safe containers or plates for heating food.

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| Jul 16, 2015

Excellent blog... really helpful...

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| May 07, 2015

Please look for the following in a plastic containers/ storage - BPA free, Grade 5 and also ask for virgin plastics. All the qualities ensure that the plastic that we use is of a very high quality and non toxic. These products will be little premium but very safe and reliable. Very few brands are available in india.

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| May 07, 2015

Very informative article.

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| May 04, 2015

Nice nd informative article. .use tupperware and signoraware...

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| May 04, 2015

Informative article..

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| Apr 10, 2015

Great article! Does anyone know if it is safe to store hot food (like parantha) in an aluminium foil

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| Apr 10, 2015

Excellent blog

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| Apr 10, 2015

Thanks Arunima. ...really interesting article to make one aware about plastic. ....Thanx dear

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| Feb 21, 2015

very nice article that brings awareness to lot of plastic users.. thanks a lot...

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| Sep 23, 2014

Kudos to Arunima for sharing such an important information with us. In today's world it is impossible to avoid the plastic completely but at least we can minimise its use to a great extent. This will not only help us but will prevent our environment also

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| Sep 19, 2014

Thanks Anurima for very informative blog. I love reading this article and got worried about my and my family health. I am thinking of replacing my office lunch with steel ones. I am currently using tupperware for fruits and lunch. Please confirm whether it is ok to carry fruits in tupperware/signaware. What about curd? Is it ok to use tupperware plastic box in microwave at office? Because we have plastic plates in our office. So for heating the food, either we have to use tupperware or office plastic plates. We store dry items (such as sooji, daliya, rice etc) all in plastic boxes, would it be fine to store these items in plastic boxes. I feel that it is very difficult to get rid of plastic bags/box from kitchen as we are so dependent on them.

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| Aug 26, 2014

Thanks for sharing the useful information.

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| Jul 04, 2014

Dear Deepti, the colder the food is before you move it to a plastic container, the better. Hot food may cause the chemicals from the plastic to leak into the food. So if you can wait for the food to cook down completely before transferring it into the plastic container, then please do so :)

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| Jul 04, 2014

Dear Toshi, here is a link with the symbols and names of each type of plastic. Believe me, it doesnt take time to memorize them :) Have a look here: http://www.zerowaste.sa.gov.au/at-home/recycle-right/what-do-the-numbers-and-symbols-on-plastics-mean

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| Jul 02, 2014

Very useful information Anurima. Thanks for sharing. Were there any pictures in this blog? A few times you have mentioned following symbols must be checked, but dont see any.

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| Jul 02, 2014

Gd and informative article, will not use them esp when it cms to my kid.

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| Jul 01, 2014

Hi after i cook i let the the food get warm and then pack them in tupper ware box is it ok or should i let the food get cold or room temperature

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| May 15, 2014

Very good article. Pls mums stop using plastic to. store food. Over time it really causes problems. Uses glass boxes. Also for kids dont send plastic water bottles to school . Use steel bottles. Its much safer.

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| Jan 24, 2014

No matter even the best brands of plastic have the ill effects to some extent. It is our responsibility to avoid the usage as much as possible. Dont know why government takes no steps to ban the manufacture of plastics when the usage poses health issues as well as environmental hazards. When plastic is not available, people dont use them. Plastic covers used in curry points specially is dangerous as they r of low quality with hot stuff inside!. Lets all join hands to avoid the usage or atleast mimnimise .. Poor animals n birds also suffer from human deeds by throwing this waste into water sources. Tip: stick to good old methods of packing, eating and dispensing. Use. Ceramic/ porcelain or glass for reheatin in microwave. For kids dont use them for any purpose. Stiick to alternatives , they too will carry that habit forward.

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| Dec 12, 2013

Dear Monika, as suggested in the blog, you may use white or light coloured plastic boxes as the chances of chemicals leaking into the food are greatly reduced. The reason being, coloured boxes need more chemicals for the colours whereas white boxes do not have any harmful dyes. Another alternative could be that you prepare the food and leave it to cool a little before putting it into the lunch box. This also reduces the chances of the temperature affecting the components in the box. Please ensure to discard the lunch box at the first signs of wear and tear. Keeping these points in mind helps reduce exposure to the chemicals in plastic boxes. I understand how important a role plastic containers play in our day to day lives. Hope this helps Monika.

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| Dec 04, 2013

Also pl. share the other alternatives, if any

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| Dec 04, 2013

Very informative and useful blog. what about the lunch boxes of our kids of any brand, whether safe because in the morning when the lunch is packed its pretty hot and as per this blog the chemical available in the plastic may cause health hazards to our kids.... kindly explain

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| Nov 18, 2013

Very informative article

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| Nov 08, 2013

good article. very useful.

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| Oct 14, 2013

Good article!! Indeed plastic utensils should not be used to store or carry hot food because it has been proved that on heating chemicals of plastic seep into the food which are cancerous. Best to use are metal containers like steel, bronze, copper coated like the ones our grandparents have used in our villages. They pose lesser risk.

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| Sep 10, 2013

Excellent blog... wld love to hve another followup with easier and safer alternatives for plastics in different daily life situations. Thoroughly researched n informative article and something we all hve been worried about evry nw n then. Thnx!

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| Jul 10, 2013

Anurima this a great blog. Thank you for the information!

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| Jul 09, 2013

Dear Arthy, tupperware is undoubtedly a good brand and you may use the bottles. However, if you notice signs of discoloration, wear & tear or if the bottles suffer any damage (dents or melts due to heat), you know its time to replace them! Moreover, it is important not to pour in hot liquids into the bottles.

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| Jun 28, 2013

Thank you for the above information.

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| Jun 27, 2013

well shared information can you tell me whether tupperware water bottles are good to use?

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| Jun 27, 2013

well shared information can you tell me whether tupperware water bottles are good to use?

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| Jun 26, 2013

very informative good...

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| Jun 25, 2013

very informative... we all are so pro using plastic containers... guess time to avoid them

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| Jun 24, 2013

Dear Preethi. Tupperware is a good brand, however, in my research for the blog, I have come across a fact that over time there is definitely some amount of seepage from the plastics into the food especially when the food is hot. To be on the safe side, you may heat the food in a glass bowl or on the gas in a steel vessel. Plastic containers do not pose any risk when cold food (when food is completely cooled and then transferred into them) is stored in them in the refrigerator or for storing dry ingredients such as uncooked rice, dal etc.

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| Jun 22, 2013

Very very informative....... Cheers

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| Jun 20, 2013

Informative article . I use lot of Tupperware but I use few Tupperware containers in micro oven for a min to warm . Is it still harmfull???

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| Jun 20, 2013

Very practically useful info!!!

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