Kitchen Food Safety: Bags, Bottles & Beyond
Henneman, MS, Registered Dietitian & Extension Educator
University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County
Jensen, REHS, Environmental Health Specialist
Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department
we think kitchen food safety, the following seven unsafe practices may
not come to mind. They should. Do you avoid them? Please do!
Using non-food grade materials
a material looks like a suitable food container doesn't make it safe for
food. Four common nonfood grade items we should avoid using include the
- Brown paper
bags for cooking. Here's
what the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says about this practice:
"Do not use brown paper bags from grocery or other stores for cooking.
They are not sanitary, may cause a fire, and can emit toxic fumes. Intense
heat may cause a bag to ignite, causing a fire in the oven... . The
ink, glue, and recycled materials in paper bags can emit toxic fumes
when they are exposed to heat. Instead, use purchased oven cooking bags."
also advises, "These bags may not necessarily be sanitary, particularly
since they may be stored under a variety of conditions." <www.fsis.usda.gov/oa/pubs/meatpack.htm>
- Garbage cans
for cooking. Garbage
cans weren't developed for cooking. It is especially dangerous cooking
in galvanized garbage cans as they contain toxic metals that can leach
- Film canisters
for food storage. If
a product isn't sold to hold food, don't use it for this purpose. A
commonly used nonfood item is film canisters. Use small food storage
Reusing one-time-use items
- Plastic trash
bags for food storage. The
use of plastic trash bags for food storage or cooking is not recommended
by USDA "... because they are not food grade plastic and chemicals
from them may leach into the food."
items should not be used with foods, others should be used only ONCE,
and then for their intended purpose. For example, USDA states: "Plastic
wrap, foam meat trays, convenience food dishes, and egg cartons have been
approved for a specific use and should be considered one-time-use packaging.
Bacteria from foods that these packages once contained may remain on the
packaging and thus be able to contaminate foods or even hands if reused."
that were developed with the intention of single use include these four
plastic water bottles. It
is better to buy a reusable water bottle and use that instead of reusing
a bottle in which water is sold. The plastic water bottles in which
water is sold are intended for single service. They are hard to clean
and dry and are not meant for multiple cleanings. They may not hold
up under the hot water and cleansing needed to remove lipstick, etc.
plastic utensils, cups and containers. This
category includes plastic forks, spoons and knives; plastic cups; and
containers from cottage cheese, sour cream, chip dip, margarine, milk,
etc. These items are not made of materials designed for repeated use
or repeated cleaning with hot soap and water. Cups and containers may
have edges that curl over and collect bacteria that cannot be cleaned
out. These containers are developed for specific types/temperatures
of foods and may not stand up to all foods, such as high acid and/or
wooden items. Some
wooden food-related items, such as popsicle sticks and shish kabob skewers,
are intended for one-time use. If you want to reuse shish kabob sticks,
buy the metal ones. Rather than reuse popsicle sticks, purchase one
of the containers for making popsicles that comes with reusable handles.
Or, use a new purchased popsicle stick every time.
Mis-using materials in the microwave
- Lids with non-cleanable
jars can be cleaned and reused; however you must be careful of reusing
the lids. Lids with a non-cleanable liner,such as a waxed cardboard
liner, should not be re-used.
your food in safe ways using safe containers. USDA
food in packaging materials only if the package directs, and then use
only one time. Materials suitable for microwaving include oven bags,
wax paper and plastic wrap. Do not let the plastic wrap touch the food,
and do not reuse the wrap.
insulated trays and plastic wraps on fresh meats in grocery stores are
not intended by the manufacturer to be heated and may melt when in contact
with hot foods, allowing chemical migration into the food. In addition,
chemical migration from packaging material to a food does not necessarily
require direct contact. Excessive heat applied to a closed container
may drive off chemical gases from the container that can contaminate
the enclosed food.
types of plastic products should not be used in a microwave oven because
they are subjected to heat when thawing or reheating. To avoid a chemical
migration problem, remove meats from their packaging." <www.fsis.usda.gov/OA/pubs/altroute.htm>
on "Plastics and the Microwave" in FDA Consumer magazine
carryout containers from restaurants and margarine tubs should not be
used in the microwave, according to the American Plastics Council. Inappropriate
containers may melt or warp, which can increase the likelihood of spills
and burns. Also, discard containers that hold prepared microwavable meals
after you use them because they are meant for one-time use."
article cautions: "Microwave-safe plastic wrap should be placed loosely
over food so that steam can escape, and should not directly touch your
food. Some plastic wraps have labels indicating that there should be a
one-inch or greater space between the plastic and the food during microwave
read directions," advises FDA, "but generally, microwave-safe
plastic wraps, wax paper, cooking bags, parchment paper, and white microwave-safe
paper towels are safe to use. Covering food helps protect against contamination,
keeps moisture in, and allows food to cook evenly. Never use plastic storage
bags, grocery bags, newspapers, or aluminum foil in the microwave."
Using mercury thermometers
of old mercury thermometers, but don't just throw them away. Take them
to a household hazardous waste collection site.
thermometers are identifiable by the silver bulb at the bottom and silver
coloring in the temperature indicator area. Thermometers with a red or
blue liquid do NOT contain mercury. The danger is if a mercury thermometer
breaks, toxic fumes are released and the mercury contaminates the area
in which it is spilled. It's very difficult -- and EXPENSIVE -- to effectively
clean spilled mercury. Replace these thermometers with non-mercury thermometers.
information about choosing and using thermometers, see "Forgotten
in the Fridge" at lancaster.unl.edu/food/ftmay04.htm
and "Pass the Taste Test ... Use a Thermometer" at lancaster.unl.edu/food/ftfeb04.htm
Misusing hard-to-clean items
families are busy rushing and running. Utensils that once were cleaned
thoroughly after each use may get set aside. Cleaning is neglected or
delayed. Consider these four items:
purchasing a metal whisk, some of the easiest ones to clean are stainless
steel whisks with their wires attached to the handle with a watertight
seal. They don't rust, and food particles don't get trapped in the handle.
aside, a whimsical apron sighted on the Internet identifies the wearer
as being involved with "Home Cooked Security" and holding
the position of "Director of Whisk Assessment."
- Pastry and
basting brushes. Use
food grade pastry and basting brushes rather than paint brushes. Paint
brushes may not have been treated to be acceptable for food use and/or
their design may not be conducive to thorough cleaning.
cross contamination when using food brushes. For example, don't baste
raw meat and then use the same brush on the cooked meat or another food
that will not be cooked. Also, it is a good practice to use a different
brush for pastry than the one used for basting meats. Wash brushes in
hot soapy water and rinse well after each use or run through the dishwasher
- Vegetable brushes.
brushes are designed for scrubbing hard-surfaced vegetables and fruits,
such as melons, cucumbers and acorn squash. Clean them thoroughly after
each use. The easiest method is to run them through a dishwasher if
they are dishwasher safe. Otherwise, clean them with hot soapy water
and rinse with hot water or run through the dishwasher if dishwasher-safe.
are hard to keep clean for use on food contact surfaces, such as dishes
and countertops. Sponges provide an ideal location for bacteria to grow.
Bacteria thrive in the warmth, moisture and food collected on sponges.
Re-using items that should be laundered
should be cleaned and dried after each use and changed frequently. While
the recommendation is sometimes made to heat WET sponges in the microwave,
the guidelines are not precise and there is a possibility of fire.
are easier to keep clean than sponges and can be purchased very inexpensively.
A clean one can be used every time a person does the dishes or wipes
the counter. Launder dishcloths in the washing machine in hot water
and dry in a hot dryer. Or, use paper towels. A third possibility is
to use a combination of paper towels and dishcloths. Some people find
it easier to wipe up small spills and clean small areas with a paper
towel and to use a dishcloth for cleaning larger areas.
and dish towels should be washed after use. Wet or damp dish towels and
cloths are ideal environments for bacterial growth. Allow them to air
dry before tossing them into a laundry basket. Have a good supply so it
is not necessary to re-use them before laundry day.
Using damaged items that can't be cleaned
boards, whether plastic or wood, should be tossed once they contain deep
cuts or grooves that cannot be easily cleaned. Discard damaged wooden
and nylon utensils that have cracks or melted surfaces.
Permission to reproduce:
may reproduce these materials for educational purposes but not for sales
purposes. You're also welcome to link to "Food Reflections" from your
website. Please credit: Food Reflections, University of Nebraska Cooperative
of commercial and trade names does not imply approval or constitute endorsement
by the University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension. Nor is criticism
implied of products not mentioned.
of Nebraska Cooperative Extension educational programs abide with the
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States Department of Agriculture.