How Long Can I Keep My Plastic Containers?

How Long Can I Keep My Plastic Containers?

Plastic food storage containers can degrade over time, potentially leaching chemicals and shedding microplastics. Here are some signs and tips to help you determine when to toss your plastic containers:

Signs to Look For

  1. Scratches and Cuts:
    • If your plastic containers have visible scratches, cuts, or gouges, it’s time to replace them. These imperfections can harbor bacteria, are a sign of degradation of plastic and increase the risk of chemical leaching.
  2. Staining and Odors:
    • Persistent stains or lingering odors that won’t go away even after thorough cleaning can indicate that the plastic has absorbed food substances. This is a sign that chemicals are leaching, making room for food stains to be absorbed. 
  3. Discoloration:
    • Fading or yellowing of the plastic can indicate that the material is breaking down.
  4. Warping:
    • Warping or misshaping, often caused by exposure to high temperatures (like microwaving, dishwashing or a hot car!), can weaken the plastic and lead to increased leaching.
  5. Cracks, Breaks and Uneven Texture:
    • Any visible cracks or breaks are clear indicators that the container should be discarded.
  6. Age:
    • Over time, even high-quality plastics can degrade. If you’ve had the container for several years, consider replacing it, especially if it shows any of the above signs.

Tips for Safe Use

Material Check:
Opt for stainless steel and glass food storage.

Avoid Heat Exposure:

Don’t microwave plastic containers, clean in a dishwasher or leave exposed in sunlight
Avoid putting hot food directly into plastic containers.

Food Type Storage:
Store acidic foods (like tomato sauce)  in stainless and glass containers instead of plastic, as acids can increase leaching.
Store high fat foods (avocado, dressings, coconut curry) in stainless or glass as fat degrades integrity of plastic

Inspect Regularly:
Periodically check your containers for signs of wear and tear.

Alternatives to Plastic
    • Stainless Steel: Great for both storage and transport. Be sure to select food grade!
    • Glass: Durable, non-reactive, and doesn't leach chemicals (be sure to inspect plastic lids – see above). Difficult to transport due to weight and breakable.
    • Silicone: Flexible and durable, best for smaller portions. Be sure to select food grade varieties.

    By regularly inspecting your plastic containers and replacing them when you notice signs of degradation, you can reduce the risk of chemical leaching and microplastic contamination. Consider switching to more durable and non-reactive materials like glass or stainless steel for long-term storage.

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