Food for Thought: Creative thinkers should think again about reusing plastic containers

Nancy Schuster
Frontier Extension District Agent

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Recycle, don’t reuse.

I am constantly amazed at American ingenuity! Recently while I was preparing to give a Boy Scout Webelos nutrition program for our local troop, the discussion of cooking eggs in plastic bags came up.

Using a plastic bag to cook eggs and assorted vegetables in boiling water really sounds like a great plan. However consumers, be aware that not all bags are created equal. Very popular national brand zip lock plastic bags available at grocery stores and discount stores are not designed or approved to withstand the extreme heat of boiling. The company’s consumer service states “our plastic bags are not designed or approved to withstand the extreme heat of boiling; therefore, using our bags to make any recipe that requires the bag to be boiled is not recommended.” The spokesperson continued, “Our plastic bags can be used with confidence when label directions are followed. All our containers and microwaveable bags meet the safety requirements of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for temperatures associated with defrosting and reheating food in microwave ovens, as well as room, refrigerator, and freezer temperatures.”

foodforthoughtWho ever thought that companies had directions for use of plastic bags? There are companies that make plastic bags that can be boiled; those bags are not purchased at local discount stores and grocery stores, and they cost more. The boilable plastic bags are not made from the same plastic formula as the easy to find storage plastic bags.

When reading the directions of a popular plastic wrap film, the directions state, “To prevent wrap from melting food high in fat (like bacon) or sugar (like pastries) should not come into contact with food in the microwave. When microwaving turn back the corner of our plastic wrap to vent excess steam. Best when used on clean dry surfaces”.

Americans are also thrifty! Another case is using butter tubs over and over again. There is a popular joke about a cook cleaning out the refrigerator chocked full of butter tubs, cottage cheese cartons, and yogurt containers being re-used for food storage. The joke was that a homeowner had to open all the butter tubs in their refrigerator to determine what the food was and if it was still safe to eat. We can laugh because it is a common practice but not a good one.

Butter tubs and food cartons are called one trip containers. That means the manufacturer did not mean for consumers to reuse and reuse their containers. A popular margarine/butter tub manufacturer answered my question about reusing their butter tubs. Consumer affairs said, “The tub packaging for our margarine is designed for refrigerator storage of our product only. This packaging is not designed for reuse, freezing, microwave heating.”

Some last minute thoughts on packaging: Never use thin plastic storage bags, brown paper or plastic grocery bags, newspapers, or aluminum foil in the microwave oven. Only use cookware that is specially manufactured for use in the microwave oven. Glass, ceramic containers, and all plastics should be labeled for microwave oven use.

Plastic storage containers such as margarine tubs, take-out containers, whipped topping bowls, and other one-time use containers should not be used in microwave ovens. These containers can warp or melt, possibly causing harmful chemicals to migrate into the food.

There are many different types of stores that sell low cost container sets with snap on lids for food storage. Invest in a set for your home!


schustersmNancy Schuster is a Frontier Extension District family and consumer science agent whose responsibilities include providing information about food safety, nutrition, food science and food preparation. She is based in the Garnett office of the Frontier Extension District and can be reached at 785-448-6826 or email nschus[email protected].

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