Have you ever tried storing food in a plastic container that smelled terrible after a day? It could be a leftover meal you want to consume later on because you already had your fill. The next day, you took it from the fridge for reheating. But when you open its lid, the food smells like plastic.
This could be food that caused your stomach to churn afterward. Your lab results showed it’s a case of food poisoning, a health problem in Australia that has around 4.1 million cases yearly.
We tackle plastic packaging concerns almost every day. As a supplier of a wide range of disposable food packaging products, we want you, our customers, to feel safe and be safe whenever you use our products. Here is your guide on what types of plastic containers are safe for storing food.
When you buy plastic containers for food storage, you want your food to have the same taste and quality afterward. In cases when the smell of the container mixes with the food or when the food easily spoils, you are left with no other choice but to throw it away. But we all want to reduce food waste. Organic waste thrown into landfills every day makes Australia’s total emissions worse.
The main concern, though, is food safety. Specifically, you do not want chemicals in the plastic container corrupting your food and affecting your health.
Food that smells like plastic does not mean it is now loaded with hazardous chemicals. But the quality of plastic you use for storing food can make or break your appetite. This change in taste is called flavor scalping, or the loss of food quality because flavors are absorbed by the plastic material.
Scientists coined the term flavor scalping because of concerns in the food packaging industry about the increasing contact between food and plastic material. It is estimated that around 70 percent of food and beverage produced around the world will come in contact with plastic material in one way or another. But does this mean plastic containers are not good for storing food?
Although flavor scalping is not necessarily dangerous to your health, the process used to produce plastic is the main driving force behind concerns about food safety.
Plastic is a product of natural gas, crude oil, or biofuel. When creating plastic, manufacturers first refine fuel to make ethane and propane. Then, these are cracked in high temperatures until they become monomers like ethylene and propylene.
At this stage, a catalyst is introduced to produce a polymer, which is called ‘fluff’. This looks like the white power you use for your laundry.
When this polymer is melted in high temperatures, it is sent into pipes where it cools down into plastic tubes. Manufacturers cut and dice these tubes into small pellets, which are sent to factories to use for their plastic products.
The plastic pellets sent to factories are still virgin plastic. This is plastic in its purest state. No additives. But other plastic products need additional chemicals to achieve durability or heat resistance. Of course, the exact chemical formulas used to create these containers are not for public knowledge. But there is a way to know what kind of plastic is best for food storage. How? Know the plastic code.
Learning the plastic code is the best and easiest way to know the safety level of plastic. Fortunately, you do not have to climb mountains or dig deep into ocean trenches to find this code. Thanks to the ASTM International Resin Identification Coding System, all you need is to flip the plastic container and examine its underside. A plastic container should have any of these symbols.
Here is a summary of what these numbers and letters stand for.
Now you know the plastic code, let us discuss what it means for your food.
Based on the plastic code, those that belong to Codes 1, 2, 4, and 5 are generally safe for food packaging. At Packware, plastic containers with these symbols are premium quality and safe for your food.
For sure, you know this already, but it is worth mentioning. Not all food-grade plastic can withstand heat. Always look at the underside of the plastic to verify if it is microwavable. PET plastic (Code 1) is never safe for reheating food in a microwave. But HPDE and PP Plastic are typically safe for microwaves, although PP is mostly used for reheatable containers. Make sure to check any of these symbols before putting the container inside your microwave oven.
When the plastic is not compatible with heat, you will find this statement: 'Do not microwave.' Or, you can find this symbol.
Those that fall in Codes 3, 6, and 7 are not recommended for food or beverage because of their chemical components. Plastic with code number 3 is good for use when your need sturdy or waterproof plastic. But it is bad for food storage because of its chlorine component.
Styrofoam plastic (Code 6) is still used for food. But this plastic is mostly for one-time usage only. It is not ideal for food storage because it can easily break and mix with the food. It is not heat resistant either, which means it is not good for holding hot food or liquid, or for your microwave oven.
Plastic under Code 7 is not good for food storage because of its chemicals. BPA, for example, has been used in manufacturing water bottles, baby bottles, and plastic packaging containers. But recent studies show that even low exposure to BPA can lead to health problems like infertility, heart disease, and cancer.
It is interesting that the Food Standards Australia & New Zealand only announced a voluntary phaseout of BPA in products used for infants, like milk bottles and sip cups. Plus, it is voluntary, which means that manufacturers can still include BPA as long as it is within what they call Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI). Experts claim that a nine-month-old infant, for example, can only reach this TDI and experience health risks if they consume more than 1 kg of baby food containing BPA every day. But everything boils down to whether or not you are willing to use TDI as a reliable guide for your health.
To know if the plastic container you are using is safe for storing food, learn the plastic code. You can give the chart we provided a screenshot and store it on your mobile phone. Then the next time you shop for a plastic container, use the chart for reference.
And always see the underside of the plastic container. Those with numbers 1, 2, 4, and 5 are what you need for food storage. But also check the other symbols to know the proper use of the plastic. This way you will not make the mistake of melting the plastic when reheating food in your microwave.
In your experience, what plastic do you often use for storing and packaging food?