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Summer food safety: containers make a difference

Published: Tuesday, May 28, 2013 11:30 a.m. CDT

Popping popcorn in a paper bag in the microwave: it seems like a bright idea, until the bag catches fire. How about using a metal garbage can as a barbecue grill? Soon you and your guests could be choking on its toxic fumes.

When you think about kitchen safety, choosing food-safe containers is not at the top of most people’s minds. But just because a container looks suitable for cooking or storing food doesn’t mean it is safe, University of Illinois Extension nutrition and wellness educator Drusilla Banks said.

Take brown paper bags, for example. According to the FDA, the ink, glue and recycled materials in brown paper bags may emit toxic fumes when the bag is heated. Also, paper bags ignite easily during heating, she said.

Metal trash cans are another good example of a container that is often misused. These cans are made of galvanized metal. Galvanization is a process used to prevent rusting, in which a protective zinc-based chemical coating is applied to containers such as metal trash cans, buckets or flower pots. These containers were not designed to hold edibles and may leach harmful chemicals into foods and beverages.

Non-food-grade containers are unsafe too. As a general rule, if the container once held non-food items, it should not be recycled into a food storage container. These containers were not designed to hold foods and may leach harmful chemicals into foods, Banks said.

Paint brushes, hair brushes and shaving brushes should not be used for slathering sauce on barbecue or basting a turkey. These products were not manufactured under sanitary conditions and may contain unsafe materials because they were never intended for food, she said.

“In this age of recycling, many people want to re-use items that were intended for a single use. Disposable plastic forks, spoons, knives and cups are porous and do not stand up well to repeated cleaning and hot soapy water. Cups may have edges that curl over and collect bacteria that cannot be cleaned out. These items should not be reused; they should be sent to your local recycling facility,” she said.

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