For most of us reading this blog, we're the generation of plastic. It's in almost everything we use. In fact, it's hard to imagine how people got by without this commodity in the past! Look around your house and consider all it's uses just within a few feet of where you are sitting. But is it really optimal for food storage? Recently, research has shown that plastics emit toxins that may be seeping into your foods when in contact. Hmmm... not good.
How does that happen? Apparently, plastics can emit toxic chemicals depending on the type of plastic. These chemicals, called biphenol-A (BPA) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), have an estrogen-like effect on the body that can lead to infertility problems and cancer, and are often referred to as "endocrine disrupters". But honestly, I'm sure there are other risks that have not yet been realized. I couldn't even find a consensus on which plastics were harmful and which were not. One site said a #1 plastic was okay, while another said no and some newer #7's might be okay as well. (For more information, visit Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, then do a search in the upper right and corner for BPA. The first link will give you a great PDF to download.)
Safe Food Storage Tips:
• Avoid using plastic altogether if at all possible.
• If you must use plastic, check the triangle on the bottom and use only "safe" plastics. I say this, because in my own mind I'm not sure how safe any of these are for food storage.
Number codes to avoid: 1, 3, 6, 7
Safer codes: 2, 4, 5
• Don't microwave in plastic or with plastic wrap (and if you can't don't microwave at all!)
• Don't put plastic in the dishwasher.
• Recycle scratched, damaged, or cloudy looking plastic containers and eliminate using them for food.
• Don't use aluminum as an alternative as it can release even higher levels of BPA.
• Choose a safer alternative such as glass, stainless steel, or porcelain.
It took me some time to get rid of most of the plastic in my kitchen, but I realize there are still items that need to be replaced with a better alternative. The changes that have been made meant a switch over to various types of glass containers.
I love to use canning jars for every day use in the kitchen. These are great for storing most liquids such as left over soups and broths, raw milk, homemade salad dressings and yogurt. But they're also good for some dry items such as homemade granola, flax seeds, coconut, and so on. They can be used to store food in the pantry, the refrigerator, and even the freezer. I keep a collection of various sizes which can be picked up at most hardware stores or anywhere canning supplies are found. But my favorite size, the half gallon (64 oz.) jars are hard to come by unless you special order them. Last year I found that AceHardware.com carries these items and you can have them shipped for free to your local Ace Hardware store (but you got to go pick them up when they're in).
That was the good news. Unfortunately, the lids contain BPA! Jarden, who manufactures most of the canning lids used in America (Ball, Kerr, Golden Harvest, and Bernardine) uses a coating to keep the metal from reacting with the food. This wouldn't be a big problem if the food never came into contact with the lid, but uhhh, that's not very realistic! For example, we have a habit of always shaking our milk before pouring. And jelly is forever on the top of the lid in our house. Still it's a reasonable alternative to the plastic because most of the food is not in contact with the lid. I just wish we could find a better solution.
Leifheit, a German corporation, has reported to various inquires that their lids do NOT contain BPA. Not sure what they do about the metal reacting with the food though. So while this may be a BPA-free product, it might not be a viable alternative. But don't they make a very lovely jar?
Weck makes a gorgeous line of canning jars! Who wouldn't love to have a pantry full of these glass beauties? And they come in several shapes and sizes. But we're not talking hardward store variety anymore. While these have glass lids and are BPA-free, they're pricy. Great for canning your prize raspberry jam, but most likely not for everyday use in the kitchen. Still, I might eventually add a few of these to my kitchen for short term food storage.
For dinner left overs, we've swapped out our Tupperware, Glad, and Zip Lock containers for Anchor Hocking's very retro looking Refrigerator Storage Containers which come in three sizes and can be purchased through Wisemen Trading and Supplies. I remember my aunt using something just like these when I was young. I always thought they were so neat!
When I switched over to these glass products, I noticed that my food tasted fresher and more like they did when I first cooked them. Even though both the base and the lid on the Anchor Hocking set is heavy, the weight helps keep them sealed tight enough for a few days in the refrigerator, so they aren't absorbing other odors. Perhaps at some point I'll purchase more in the future, but for now I found that one large, two medium, and four small containers worked sufficiently for our family.
While I've mainly been addressing short term food storage, there are other occasions when our food comes into contact with plastic as well: baby bottles, sippy cups, and plastic dinnerware just to name a few. Take a look around and evaluate what your family is being exposed to on a regular basis. Then decide how much is too much and what simple changes can be made.
I actually think my food and my kitchen is nicer with glass. It's been a good change.