Last night as we were cleaning up from dinner, my husband asked if we were going to save the leftovers. I suggested that we let them cool off before putting everything away. He went ahead and got out a plastic container to put everything in, after it cooled. I began to think, is that plastic container non-toxic for food storage? Over the years I’ve heard some concerning information and after all the information I had learned recently, my gut was telling me no.
What’s The Word On The Street
For years, we’ve heard that you shouldn’t microwave food in plastic and definitely don’t put plastic wrap in there. I can also remember all the hullabaloo about BPA that came out when my kids were very young. My daughter was transitioning to a sippy cup and my son was already using one so I made sure they were BPA free. I’ve also heard on many different occasions that it’s best not to leave plastic water bottles sitting in a hot car. I’m pretty sure all single use plastic water bottles sit on a delivery truck in the summer at some point in their journey to the air conditioned store but we control what we can, right?
My Current Hybrid System
I will say I am definitely in the middle of my journey when it comes to non-toxic food storage containers. I do have a few glass food storage containers that we use and I’ve been do have a few silicone lids that I use with my glass bowls. For most things though, I just put the leftovers in plastic and pop it in the fridge. I struggle when it comes to storing food in the freezer. How many times have you gone on a baking spree with the intention of having a freezer stash of muffins for grab and go breakfasts? If you’re like me, it happens for a couple days, right before the school year starts. Am I right? You bake dozens of muffins and then what? I think most people store them in the freezer in a plastic zip top bag.
My husband doesn’t put much thought in to all this so when he takes leftovers to work, I make sure he packs them in the glass food containers because I know whatever the food is in, will be what it’s microwaved in. I try to remember to send him with a set of utensils as well so he’s not given the chance to use single use plastic.
For my kids, I use plastic containers that fit perfectly in their lunch boxes. Their snacks go in Lunchskins instead of single use plastic bags. For the most part, my kids are creatures of habit, they take the same thing every day, and it’s a cold meal. They’ll even eat quesadilla’s cold, gross but whatever. Every now and again I’ll send warmed up leftovers in a stainless steel container but that’s pretty rare. I’ve thought about investing in stainless steel containers like the Planet Box but they are pricey and my son has been known to leave his lunchbox at school, never to be found again. This mama can barely afford one Planet Box, let alone buying another if the first one gets lost.
Why I Am Concerned
After learning more about plastic pollution and the harmful effects of plastic on our bodies, I am putting more thought in to my current system. Science tells us that when heated or scratched, plastic can leach toxic chemicals in to the food or drink in contact with it. Does the same thing happen at room temperature or in the refrigerator? What about in the freezer?
I spent some time cruising around the internet in search of some answers. Everything I came across seemed to indicate that the harm in plastic comes from heat and not from room temperature or freezer storage. What still confuses me though and was what sparked my concern about plastic many years ago, is that Bisphenol A (BPA) has been found to leach into liquid in a child’s sippy cup. At the time, I ditched any sippy cup I owned that wasn’t BPA free. Now of course, I’ve learned that Bisphenol S (BPS) replaces BPA in plastic but can be just as harmful. It’s like a never ending battle. I do know from experience, if you put plastic (that is not freezer safe) in the freezer, it will crack. I learned that the hard way after storing cupcakes in the freezer only to take them out and find they were covered in freezer burn because the container they were in cracked.
There is also some evidence to suggest that acidic foods can cause toxins to leach into the food. Good gravy, can’t a girl catch a break?
There Are Non-Toxic Food Storage Options
So if all these plastic containers I have amassed over the years could be leaching toxic chemicals in to our food, what is a better choice for non-toxic food storage?
We use glass water bottles and food storage containers, I’ve even tried a glass straw. A friend gave it to me but unfortunately, it didn’t last long. It fell out of the dish drainer rack on to the floor and that was all she wrote. I do love my glass bottle and containers, the only drawback for me is they are heavier.
Pros – It doesn’t leach toxins when exposed to extreme temperatures and it can be recycled numerous times without quality degradation. It’s dishwasher safe.
Cons – it’s heavier and more pricey than plastic.
Over the years, I’ve had a few stainless steel water bottles and have loved them all. My only complaint is they dent if they are dropped. Not a big deal to me though. I haven’t tried any stainless steel food containers though. I had thought about getting some for my kids however, my son has a habit of losing things and they can be a bit pricey.
Pros – It doesn’t leach toxins when exposed to extreme temperatures and is easily recyclable. It’s lightweight and for the most part, dishwasher safe. It keeps contents cold or hot for long periods of time.
Cons – Can dent if dropped. Can be pricey.
I have a number of silicone spatula’s, measuring cups and baking containers. I really do like silicone because it’s lightweight, flexible and reasonable priced. I have heard a thing or two questioning the safety of silicone so I thought I’d better look in to it a bit more before I buy any more.
Is Silicone Non-Toxic?
Food grade silicone is a non-toxic polymer mostly made of sand (silica). I’m not a scientist and my eyes generally glaze over when explanations get too scientific so Beth Terry‘s explanation of silicone from her book “Plastic Free” was probably written just for me:
“First of all, silicone is no more “natural” than fossil-based plastic. It is a man-made polymer, but instead of a carbon backbone like plastic, it has a backbone of silicon and oxygen. (Note that I’m using two different words here: silicone is the polymer and silicon, spelled without the “e” on the end, is an ingredient in silicone.) Silicon is an element found in silica, i.e., sand, one of the most common materials on earth. However, to make silicone, silicon is extracted from silica (it rarely exists by itself in nature) and passed through hydrocarbons to create a new polymer with an inorganic silicon-oxygen backbone and carbon-based side groups. What that means is that while the silicon might come from a relatively benign and plentiful resource like sand, the hydrocarbons in silicone come from fossil sources like petroleum and natural gas. So silicone is a kind of hybrid material.” (Terry, p. 277)
100% pure food grade silicone is regarded as safe to use. Silicone made with fillers is not as you won’t know what the fillers are and most likely, they are plastic, which we’ve already decided isn’t a good choice. I do use silicone muffin cups on a weekly basis so I figure I better determine if these are pure. To do this, you can twist and pull the silicone. If it turns whitish, it’s not pure. The other tip off is if the color changes after being heated. I will admit, years ago I purchased some silicone muffin cups from a discount retailer and their color has changed over time so I’ll have to figure out where to recycle those.
I wasn’t able to find many studies testing the use of pure silicone at high temperatures which concerns me a bit. Perhaps studies are currently being conducted and we will find out more.
Where I’m Headed
My long term goal is to eliminate as much disposable plastic from our home as possible. In the short term, I want to replace all the plastic food storage containers with either glass or stainless steel. While I love silicone because it’s less costly, can be easier to store and appears to be a good non-toxic food storage option, I’m not yet 100% sold. My fear is as time goes on and more research is conducted, we may learn otherwise so I’m going to stick to using my silicone lids and silicone molds for some of the refrigerator and freezer treats we make.
I’ve known for years that I probably shouldn’t be storing food in plastic and now I’m ready to make the switch. Do you use plastic for food storage or do you use something else? I’d love to hear your favorite brands of non-toxic food storage containers.