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Choosing Nontoxic Food Storage Containers

Aug 20, 2018

by editorial team and Sophia Ruan Gushée

 

Summer is wrapping up and parents are entering back-to-school mode, making it a great time to stock up on food storage containers.

Whether it’s for packing school lunches, or preparing meals in advance, food storage containers are convenient for storing and transporting food. While plastic containers are the most popular type, there are great, nontoxic options to consider. Nontoxic food containers can also offer convenience with far fewer chemical exposures.

Toxic chemicals and materials in food containers

One of the most common types of food storage containers is plastic. It’s light-weight and convenient. However, they are made of several types of chemicals. Below are a few:

  • PFCs. Takeout food containers, especially those used for greasy foods, often contain PFCs (perfluorinated compounds). PFCs are a class of chemicals widely used in products that repel water, grease, and stains. 
  • Phthalates. Commonly found in plastic food storage containers, phthalates are used to soften hard plastic. There are about 25 types of phthalates.
  • BPA. Used to harden certain types of plastic, BPA can be found in food storage containers on grocery store shelves as well as storage containers used at home to store leftover food.
  • Styrene. Found in polystyrene or Styrofoam food containers, is in the solvent chemical family. Solvents are used for several reasons: to dissolve, suspend or disperse other substances; discourage clumping; and speed up drying times.
  • PVC (aka vinyl). One of the most toxic plastics in the industry, vinyl is made of mercury, chlorine, phthalates, lead, vinyl chloride, and ethylene dichloride. Vinyl can be found in clear food packaging and cling wraps, and food containers used during manufacturing. Lunch boxes and hot-food containers are also commonly made of PVC.

Health issues caused by food containers

Chemicals often found in plastic food containers have been linked to liver and kidney damage, birth defects, infertility, obesity, endometriosis, allergies, asthma, several types of cancer, thyroid dysfunction, birth defects and damage to the immune system. They also may be linked to neurotoxicity, brain development and behavioral issues in children. While single or occasional exposures may not necessarily harm, why not take precautionary measures and reduce exposures when you can.

Options for nontoxic food containers

The best nontoxic food storage containers are typically made of stainless steel, glass, ceramic, or stoneware. You may want to consider what type of container will be most useful depending on the food situation. Below are three common uses for food storage, and nontoxic options for each.

  1. Buying food in containers. When grocery shopping, consider buying food and drinks stored in glass containers instead of plastic or aluminum cans (which can be lined with BPA plastics).
  2. Storing leftover food. Ceramic (1), stoneware, or glass storage containers are a good option for storing leftover food, or food that is made ahead of time. For example, if you make a casserole on Sunday, but will not be eating it until Wednesday, store the casserole in cookware instead of storing it in plastic containers.
  3. Transporting food. Stainless steel is a light-weight option for transporting food. Stainless steel containers typically are made of stainless steel as both the container itself and the lid. If you plan to transport food in plastic, consider storing it in ceramic or glass prior to transporting. The less time that food is in contact with plastic storage containers, the better.

Conclusion

Stocking up on food storage containers typically means reaching for the light-weight plastic. Consider nontoxic alternatives this back-to-school season by using stainless steel instead.

When transporting food isn’t a priority, consider storing leftovers in glass, ceramic (1), or stoneware containers.

When grocery shopping, consider buying food and beverages stored in glass containers. Beverages that come in glass are still convenient and transport easily.

 

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