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TEXARKANA, Ark. –
Today’s foods come in a variety of packaging materials ranging from cans and bottles
to plastic tubs, pouches, bags and wraps. Some of these materials are designed so
the food can be heated in the package. Others are made so that part of the food can
be used and then the container resealed to keep the food fresh until the consumer
is ready for the remainder.
Packaging plays a variety of roles with food. Most importantly, it protects the food
from exposure and damage during distribution. In addition, it provides a means of
offering consumers nutrition and ingredient information, cooking instructions, product
weight, advertising, brand identification and pricing.
The Food and Drug Administration assesses the initial safety of packaging materials
for food contact, however, reuse of packaging materials has been studied much less.
The following recommendations might prove useful when deciding when and/or how packaging
materials should be reused.
1. Packages from products other than food should never be used as food containers. They have not been tested for safety with food systems and they may contain small
amounts of non-food residues. For example, do not use plastic laundry detergent buckets
for storing dry cereal.
2. Glass can be reused for all foods and for all processes, regardless of what food was
originally packaged in the glass container. The exception to this rule is that one-trip glass jars should not be used for pressure
processing in the home canner. Reuse of the lid or cover, however, is subject to the
considerations discussed in the following recommendations.
3. Reuse packaging materials only with foods similar in acidity and in sugar and fat
content to the food originally packaged in the material. For example, do not use a plastic shortening container to make salad dressing containing
a substantial amount of vinegar.
4. Reuse packaging materials only with foods that will be exposed to the same types of
processes. For example, do not melt butter in the microwave oven using a plastic margarine container.
In general, do not subject food packages to heat unless the instructions on the original
package give heating information. Many food products are hot-filled into containers
at low temperatures and the packages will not tolerate heating.
5. Do not reuse porous packaging materials such as paper, paperboard and expanded foams
(for example, Styrofoam cups and foam meat trays). They have air spaces that will harbor food particles and microorganisms. This is
especially important with young children using foam trays for craft projects.
6. Do no reuse microwave packages that contain heat susceptors for browning or crisping. The adhesives that hold the susceptor to the package may be damaged by the original
use so that the material is more likely to migrate into the food if it is used again.
7. If you store foods with strong odors or flavors in reused food packages, the packaging
material may become permeated with the odor/flavor chemicals. Some packaging materials allow these chemicals to pass through, and the odors or
flavors are transferred to other foods stored in the same area. Other materials accumulate
the odor/flavor molecules in the polymeric packaging and then release them into a
subsequently stored product.
8. When materials are safe for use in the microwave oven, they are usually labeled for
such use. If you don’t know if the material is safe for use in the microwave, don’t use it.
Soft plastics are especially likely to flake, blister, deform and melt. This can both
allow plastic polymer or additives to penetrate into the food and can make it necessary
to clean up messy spills in your oven.
9. If you are using a flexible film bag like a bread wrapper for food storage, always
use it with the outside printed side out. Printing inks may contain materials that are not meant for human consumption, and
they may migrate into food if they come into direct contact with it.
10. If you store a non-food item in a food container, do not reuse the container later
for food storage. Many plastics pick up small amounts of the substances stored in them and release
them later. Motor oil stored in plastic milk jugs will later be present in lemonade
if you store lemonade in the same container.
11. Use only food-grade paper in direct contact with food products. Paper processing uses a variety of chemicals and the raw materials can contain residues
which would be unacceptable in foods. Food-grade paper products are manufactured by
processes with minimal residues, and the finished product is routinely tested.
One of the most basic rules of food safety applies to reusing packaging materials
as well as to the foods themselves - When In Doubt, Throw It Out.
For more information, contact the Miller County Extension Office, 870-779-3609 or
visit us in room 215 at the Miller County Courthouse. We're online at firstname.lastname@example.org,
on Facebook at UAEXMillerCountyFCS, on Twitter @MillerCountyFCS or on the web at uaex.uada.edu/Miller.
By Carla Due County Extension Agent - FCSThe Cooperative Extension Service