Are Plastic Containers Safe for Food Prep or Food Storage?

Are all plastics safe for food storage or food prep?  In short answer, NO…  Plastics pervade every part of our normal way of living.  According to, some 299 million tons of plastics were produced in 2013, representing a 4 percent increase over 2012. Worldwide plastic production has been growing as the durable, primarily petroleum-based material gradually replaces materials like glass and metal.   Between 22 percent and 43 percent of the plastic used worldwide is disposed of in landfills, where recovery and recycling remain insufficient, this is a major environmental concern.

So the question remains, how much are we at risk for exposure to the chemicals found in plastics, and are all plastics the same?  Another tough question, but in short, long term exposure is argumentative, and NO again… all plastics are not the same. There are several types of plastics, some being safer than others. Plastic products are commonly marked with a number enclosed by the recycling symbol, which is typically found on the bottom of the product. This symbol is used to identify the plastic and recycle-ability of the proplastic scaleduct. Safe choices would be to use product containers marked with #2, #4 and #5.  Containers using #1 and #7 should be used with caution and by all means steer clear of using containers marked with #3 and #6.

I’ll review in short each type of plastic and their health concerns, but to find more information, please see the article posted by

1is PET or PETE – Polyethylene Terephthalate, a plastic resin in the family of polyester. It’s commonly found in cosmetics, water, juice soft drinks, salad dressings, oil and peanut butter.  Studies have found this chemical to leach from water bottles that have been temperature abused. Plastics from #1 are intended for one time use.

2is HDPE – High Density Polyethylene made from petroleum.  It is commonly found in the manufacturing of toys and the packaging of laundry detergent, milk jugs and folding chairs and tables.  This plastic can withstand high temperatures and currently poses no health risk.

3is PVC – Polyvinyl Chloride, a thermoplastic polymer commonly found in cling wrap, pool toys, shower curtains and waterbeds? The health concern is many of the chemicals made with PVC can be released in the air and cause respiratory distress.

4is  LDPE – Low Density Polyethylene, a thermoplastic made from petroleum. It is recognized by its opaque or translucent appearance and is commonly found as the outer and inner liner of juice and milk containers. Most plastic grocery bags are made with LDPE.

5is PP – Polypropylene, is a thermoplastic polymer and from its tough composition has a high resistance to heat and acts as a barrier to moisture.  Typically you can find PP in margarine and yogurt tubs, plastic cups, baby bottles, kitchen ware, microwavable containers and lids.  ** Important to note: “Microwavable/Dishwasher” safe only means the plastic will not warp when heated.  Glass containers are a better alternative, but there are no known health concerns with PP.

6is PS – Polystyrene, is a petroleum based plastic.  It is widely used in packaging materials and insulation and is commonly found in disposable knives and forks, CD/DVD cases, egg cartons, foam cups and to-go containers. Long term exposure has been linked to neurotoxicity affecting sleep, causing fatigue and nervousness. Styrene is classified by the EPA as a carcinogen that will affect the lymphatic system.  To avoid using PS use stainless steel cutlery, plates or paper plates and store food in a glass container.

7is an “Other” category that will have variants but may contain BPA – Bisphenol A. Polycarbonates are derived from BPA and can be found in products such as electrical wiring, baby bottles and 3-5 gallon reusable bottles.  BPA has been found to be an endocrine disruptor, having effects on brain behavior, affecting the prostate gland in fetuses, infants and small children.

plastic containers

Ways to avoid the uncertainty of plastic containers is to choose the safest choice of sticking to plastics marked with #2, #4 and #5.  If there are no markings, use unlined glass, stainless steel, or ceramic containers, instead.  Regardless to the type of plastic used, avoid exposing plastics to high temperatures and use mild detergents when cleaning.

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Food4Thought, LLC.


Controlling Food Cost and Where Your Extra Cash Goes

In an article written in 2009 by Jim Sullivan, he raises the question of how restaurants are controlling their cost.  Incidents of broken dishes, lost silverware or negligent handling of food, i.e. food spoilage or burnt food that must be thrown away might be recoverable items – but at what cost?  The article seems to point out that these mistakes are driven by staff attitude or an unassuming notion that “restaurants are gold mines and the owners must be swimming in mounds of cash”.  Unfortunately, this could not be further from the truth.  In fact, every fork, spoon, knife, napkin, disposable goods and food is accounted for in the operational cost of that restaurant and the profit margins on every dollar depend on controlling those cost.

garbage can

On average most restaurants, from full service to fast-casual dining make 5% to 15% profit on the dollar.  Some restaurants make much more than this, while others make much less.  Your average staff member would not be aware of these truths, but they should be made aware there negligible contributions.  One of the hard truths is that only a nickel of every dollar is all that an average restaurant makes in profit after they make payroll, food/liquor cost, operational cost and rent.  And when things like leaving the cooler door open allowing food to spoil or burning food, accidentally throwing away silverware or breaking dishes… that nickel profit has been reduced to pennies or less and now your spending money.

Training and properly educating staff will help to initiate some hardcore cost cutting measures.  However, you must first help your staff to understand the counter current relationship between cost-control and menu merchandising.  Remember, it was said a nickel is made in profit from every dollar.  So, if for example a burger plate cost $5 and after you subtract the cost of sourcing, storing, prepping, garnishing and serving with a napkin, ketchup, etc… you now don’t make $5, you only are making 25 cents.. Ouch!

To further demonstrate this significant relationship between cost and merchandising, say you have a server who drops and breaks a glass that cost the restaurant $1 to buy. Or a staff member eats $1 worth of fries that they did not pay for?  Or the staff over-portions $1 worth of napkins or to-go containers?  You now have to sell FOUR burger plates at $5 to make enough profit for either the broken glass, stolen fries or extra napkins and to-go containers.  This number exponentially goes up with higher pieces of merchandise, say a $10 plate being broken.  Eventually a restaurants gross margins will shrink and profits will be lost.

Here are some cost awareness basics pointed out from the article:

  • You don’t take “top line sales” to the bank. The top line is not the goal line. Gross margins are the most important number in your Profit and Loss statements.
  • Make the invisible visible.  Post and highlight for your staff to see your restaurant’s monthly expenses, like utility bills, advertising, services.
  • Use cleanliness and safety as a barometer. Ensure the basic disciplines of cleanliness and safety are in place in your operation.  For training assistance, please consider f4tllc.

Finally, for there to be well-controlled operating cost, set appropriate expectations.  If you elevate the importance of cost-control to the level of food safety in your restaurant you will have a much more effective efforts, and don’t be afraid to fire those whose actions fail to support your efforts.  Thank you for reading.

Live Healthier… Live Safer.