Can You Safely Reuse Plastic Take-out Containers?

source: Reddit

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I gotta admit, if you come over to my house and check out my kitchen, you’ll find it brimming with plastic containers. Despite my best efforts to switch to glass, practicality often wins—plastic containers are just so much lighter. So whenever I pack my lunch, I gravitate towards plastic for convenience. However, when it comes to storing leftovers in the fridge, I lean towards glass. But if I’m being totally honest, you’ll find not only regular plastic containers but also those deli type containers—the clear, cylindrical plastic tubs that come in eight-ounce, pint, and quart-sized varieties. They’re stacked in my kitchen cabinets, super convenient, don’t take up much space, and have universal lids that fit every size.

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Sometimes, though, when I fill them with hot stock or other steaming contents, these containers get a bit pliable, which I really don’t like. It gives me pause and makes me wonder: Is it safe to reuse these containers? Here’s what I found out.

The Pros and Cons of Plastic Containers

Pros: There’s no denying the convenience of plastic containers. They’re lightweight, shatterproof, and you can find them in just about every size and shape. They’re also typically cheaper than glass or metal alternatives. This makes them a go-to for meal prep and food storage for many of us.

Cons: The drawbacks of using plastic containers, however, can be significant when it comes to health and the environment. Most plastics contain various chemical additives to give them desirable properties like flexibility and durability. Unfortunately, many of these chemicals have not been thoroughly tested for safety, and those that have been studied often show potential for leaching harmful substances into food, especially when heated or scratched.

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Why People Use Plastic Containers

Simply put, plastic containers are ubiquitous because they’re incredibly convenient. They’re easy to come by—often as packaging for takeout food or groceries—and they’re versatile. Plus, their lightweight nature makes them ideal for both storing food at home and carrying meals on the go.

Why Glass Containers Are Better

In contrast, glass containers are inert, meaning they don’t react chemically with the food stored within them. They’re also more sustainable, as glass can be recycled indefinitely without loss of quality. Although heavier and more fragile, glass doesn’t absorb odors or stains like plastic can and is generally safer for repeated use in microwaves and dishwashers.

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Is It Safe to Reuse Plastic Containers?

The safety of reusing plastic containers, especially the deli type, isn’t entirely straightforward. The reality is, almost all plastics are composed of strong chemical bonds and contain additives that could potentially leach into food. When these containers are used to store acidic foods, exposed to high heat, or washed in dishwashers, the risk of leaching increases.

Why It’s Not Entirely Safe

Plastic containers often come with labels like “microwave-safe” or “dishwasher-safe.” While these labels indicate that the plastic will not melt under high heat, they don’t guarantee that chemicals won’t leach into food. Research indicates that almost all plastics tested have shown some level of chemical leaching, which raises concerns about long-term exposure to these chemicals.

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What You Can Store in Plastic Containers

It’s best to use plastic containers for cold or room-temperature items. Avoid using them for anything acidic, overly saucy, or fatty, as these types of food are more likely to encourage chemical leaching. Also, try to keep them out of direct sunlight, which can degrade the plastic and increase leaching risks.

Can You Put Plastic Deli Containers in the Microwave and Dishwasher?

While many plastic containers are marked “microwave-safe” or “dishwasher-safe,” it’s wise to be cautious. These containers won’t melt, but the safety concerning chemical leaching is not guaranteed. Therefore, if you must reuse plastic containers, it’s best to avoid subjecting them to high temperatures.

source: Reddit

Best Food Storage Alternatives to Plastic Containers

When looking for safer alternatives to plastic, consider materials like glass, stainless steel, or silicone. Glass is excellent for visibility and purity of taste, stainless steel is durable and resistant to staining and odors, and silicone offers flexibility and a light weight similar to plastic but without the associated health risks.

As I try to phase out plastic in my kitchen, I find myself leaning more towards these safer, more sustainable options. They might require a bit of an adjustment and can be pricier upfront, but the peace of mind and reduced health risks are well worth it. Plus, they’re kinder to our planet, and that’s something we can all feel good about.