Are you thinking about buying a plastic food container? Got a few questions about one that you have purchased recently? You’ve come to the right place, because in this FAQ we will answer some of the more widely asked questions about these nifty pieces of kitchen kit.
Plastic food boxes, often called Tupperware after the popular brand, are incredibly popular, and It’s easy to see why — not only are they lightweight and durable, but they will protect your favourite dishes, and, in the case of those that are airtight, keep your food fresh and ready to eat for an extended period of time (see our food storage tips for more advice about maintaining freshness). They are also easy to clean, with many dishwasher-safe or easy to wipe down. Read on to find out all you need to know about plastic food containers.
What type of plastic are food storage containers made from?
Food containers can be made from a few different plastics, with some of the most common being high-density polyethylene (HDPE), low-density polyethylene (LDPE), and polypropylene (PP). If you would like to know more about one of our products, simply get in touch or give us a call on 01609 760 773.
If you want to recycle a plastic food box, it's important to know that the type of plastic it is made from can determine how you go about this. Depending on the type of plastic, you may or may not be able to recycle it - look for the plastic reference code on the bottom of your container and compare these to the codes collected by your local council's recycling service. This information can usually be found on their website.
BPA (Bisphenol-A) is a chemical that is used in some plastics to give them greater strength and clarity. Some studies have linked the substance to health hazards so, although there has been no conclusive evidence presented that proves it is harmful, many companies have produced BPA-free plastics as a precaution and to meet public demand.
However, some food containers are still made with a BPA plastic. Those that do tend to be made from polycarbonate, whereas BPA-free options will be made from one of the more common plastics like high-density polyethylene (HDPE), low-density polyethylene (LDPE), or polypropylene (PP). The easiest way to tell is to refer to the plastic reference code on the bottom of your container. If it is marked as number 7, there is a chance that it could contain BPA — codes 1 to 6 are BPA-free.
Here at Plastic Box Shop, we’ve conveniently marked all of our BPA-free products with a green icon so that you can be confident in your order with us. For more information on BPA and identifying BPA-free products, please refer to our guide to BPA plastics .
There are a large variety of plastic food containers available, and some are airtight while others aren’t. Those that are designed to keep your food as fresh as possible will be fully sealed, and you can usually tell from their firmly closing lid or locking mechanism. Others that have more loose-fitting lids will not be airtight. Many of the boxes in our plastic food storage range are airtight — look for products with sealable lids or a clip-and-lock mechanism for maximum freshness. If you are not sure, simply get in touch and we will be happy to help.
Plastic food boxes can be cleaned with a non-abrasive sponge or cloth in hot soapy water. Afterwards, rinse with clean water to remove any suds. Drying with a tea towel will prevent water spots forming on the plastic, but you should leave boxes out to thoroughly air-dry afterwards. Avoid applying the lid, as this can trap unwanted moisture and stale air.
Alternatively, you can find out if your plastic boxes are dishwasher-safe.
It's unlikely that plastic food containers will be sterilised before they are packaged, so you should always wash new products to be safe. See our advice on hand-washing or putting them in the dishwasher.
Certain food products, like tomato sauces and curries, can leave orangey stains in your food storage containers. You can reduce the risk of staining by coating your container with non-stick spray or oil before adding your food. If some staining does occur, you can clean it using baking soda. Simply mix a thick paste of warm water and baking soda and rub it into the container. Allow it to sit for one day before rinsing — repeat if necessary.
Mould most commonly occurs when a plastic container is left with some food particles inside for a period of time without being cleaned. While thoroughly cleaning your container will remove most of the particles, it is safer to disinfect it too, as some moulds can be toxic.
Simply leave the affected container to soak in a mixture of unscented bleach and water — 55ml of bleach for every 1 litre of water — for 30 minutes. Thoroughly wash and rinse them afterwards.
Many plastic food boxes that are dishwasher-safe are marked with a symbol to indicate this. There is not an industry standard, but most look like a plate or glass with a water drop above it. If you aren’t sure, you can take extra precautions by washing your containers in the top shelf of your dishwasher, where the heat will not be as intense.
With food boxes that contain BPA , it’s better to take the extra time to clean them in the sink. This is because the high temperatures that a dishwasher exposes your containers to can release undesirable chemicals more so than hand-washing them.
Here at Plastic Box Shop, we try to include any available information about whether your purchase is dishwasher-safe or not in the product descriptions — if you aren’t sure, just get in touch and we can help.
After using your dishwasher, you may find that your plastic products are still wet, even though your other items are dry. There is a simple explanation for this: because plastic is lighter and thinner, it isn’t able to conduct heat as well as other materials — this makes evaporation occur at a much slower rate. You should give them a wipe yourself to remove water droplets, before storing them with their lids ajar to allow full air circulation.
Many plastic food containers are labelled as being freezer-safe, most often with a snowflake symbol on the bottom. While most containers are fine for use in the freezer, those that aren’t can suffer from cracking if the contents inside expand too much. At Plastic Box Shop, we always try to provide this information in the product description — contact us if you aren’t sure.
Many plastic food boxes are microwave-safe — commonly marked with a small microwave symbol on the bottom. Those that are labelled as microwave-safe have been specially designed to withstand the extreme heat they will be subjected to without melting or warping. Here at Plastic Box Shop, we include this information in our product descriptions where possible, but if you aren’t sure, simply get in touch and we will be happy to assist.
It should also be mentioned that putting plastic containing BPA chemicals in the microwave can lead to more undesirable substances leaching out of the plastic and into food. Therefore, you should avoid putting non BPA-free products into the microwave.
If you are referring to a new product you have purchased, the container may have a slight odour remaining from the manufacturing process. This will disappear over time and will not affect your food. Take a look at our advice on cleaning new plastic food boxes for more information about what you should do with new purchases.
If you have been using your container for a while and a smell has begun to linger, it could well be because the lid has been attached without it being fully dry, or perhaps it has been used to store a strong-smelling food that has been absorbed by the plastic. Please refer to our above advice on cleaning your container for more information.
If you own a few plastic food containers, we recommend that you keep the lids matched with the right container to avoid similar sized boxes becoming mixed up. Forcing the wrong lid onto the container can warp the plastic and won’t provide an airtight seal.
However, make sure you store with the lid slightly ajar to allow for optimal air circulation and prevent stale air becoming trapped.
We want you to be able to buy with confidence and keep your food boxes in the very best condition, so we hope that this FAQ is able to answer many of your queries. We stock a wide range of plastic food boxes here at Plastic Box Shop, and we try to include all of the essential information you need for each product. If, however, you have a question that is not covered in this article, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team, you will be very happy to answer it.