Monday, March 4, 2013

How to Choose a Safe Lunch Box Container

Keep nasty toxins away from your lunch with these simple steps.

Food icon
Learn what these symbols mean to keep toxins out of your lunch container.

When it comes to choosing a lunch box container, most people prefer plastic containers over glass or ceramic. Plastic containers are lighter to carry, can easily be popped into the microwave, and most come with leak-proof lids. However, choosing the right kind of plastic container is very important, since it impacts not only our health, but also our environment. Here’s a simple guide to choosing safe lunch boxes.

Symbols: What do they tell you?

The symbols at the bottom of a container can tell you if it's recyclable, microwave-safe, dishwasher-safe, freezer-safe, or even safe for food storage at all. It is best to avoid buying containers without these symbols, because their "safe for consumer" status is questionable.

Symbol Indication
Food symbol Safe for contact with food
dishwasher Dishwasher safe
Frost crystal Freezer safe
Microwaves Microwave safe
plastic icons Type of plastic used and its recyclability

The letter(s) under each number is a short form for the kind of plastic used in making containers. Numbers 2, 4 and 5 are considered safe for food storage, while 1, 3, 6 and 7 are not recommended. Number 3 (V or PVC) stands for polyvinylchloride.

Avoiding PVC

According to the Washington Toxics Coalition, lunch boxes made with PVC contain high levels of lead, which can leach into our food on storing and/or heating. There are several reasons to avoid lead:

  • Lead has been linked with birth defects and known to harm children’s learning and behavior.
  • Lead leaches into waste water from dishwashing machines, polluting water systems.

Safe alternatives to plastic containers

Plastic containers are recyclable, but not degradable (meaning bacteria in the soil cannot act on the plastic), causing it to remain in the environment for thousands of years. Here are two alternatives:

  • Glass and ceramic containers with leak-proof lids are convenient.
  • Stainless steel or metal containers are easy to carry but are not microwave-safe.

Both types, however, greatly reduce the health and environmental impacts that come with use of plastic containers. For more information, see the Washington Toxics Coalition.

— By Dharti Shah, Bastyr dietetic intern, and Debra Boutin, MS, RD, chair and dietetic internship director, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University.

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