Back in college, I was putting away my lunch things when my housemother stopped me. “Are you going to put that can back in the fridge?”
I blinked at her. I looked down at the can. “I only used half of it.”
“Put it in a container, then!” She bent down and rummaged through a cupboard. “Here, use this.” She handed me a plastic storage container. “You don’t want to eat food that’s been left in an open can. It’ll make you sick.”
I shrugged and took the container. Whatever.
Since then, I’ve done my best to remember to empty partially-used cans of food into a storage container. I get it now. Tin and iron can leach from the inside of the can into the food. Not good.
But there’s something my housemother got wrong.
Can you guess what it was?
She had me put the food from the frying pan into the fire, to speak.
Plastic containers are a problem. They’re not much better than tin cans.
Bisphenol A, or BPA, has been used in making plastic food containers since 1963. It’s everywhere: in the lids that line cans, in water bottles, and in old-school Tupperware. (Tupperware discontinued the use of BPA in 2010).
The Centers for Disease Control found that nearly all of us (93%, to be exact) have BPA in our systems. Children have the highest levels, perhaps because so many baby bottles and sippy cups contain it.
Like the tin in cans, the BPA in plastics leaches into its contents.
When plastic food containers are exposed to hot liquids—as would happen if you put a plastic container of soup in the microwave—the BPA leaches out 55 times faster than it does normally.
When a food container is old and scratched or washed regularly in a dishwasher, the BPA leaches out even faster.
When I moved several years ago, my mother helped me out by giving me a box of old kitchen gear she no longer used. In it were cracked mugs, metal mixing bowls, and stacks of old plastic storageware.
I was grateful. When you don’t have any dishes at all, plastic is better than nothing. I made sure to cool down food before putting it into the containers, and I never reheated food in them.
Then I discovered Mason jars.
Every so often, a simple yet elegant solution comes along that makes you feel like queen of the world.
I had no idea that Mason jars could go in the freezer and the microwave (as long as you remove the metal lid). I could pour my hot homemade soup into a jar, place it in a bowl of cold water to cool it down quickly, store it in the fridge or freezer, then reheat it in the microwave. So easy!
Soon, I found myself decanting everything into Mason jars. Too much pasta sauce for one meal? Pour the extra into a jar and shove it in the freezer. Is that open bag of pasta difficult to reseal? Pour it into a jar and shove it back into the cupboard.
Mason jars aren’t designed to withstand the heat of an oven unless submerged in hot water, but they’re good for just about every other purpose. Cute drinking glasses. Flower vases. Pencil holders. Craft storage. Firefly catchers.
Yep. Bona fide Mason jar addiction.
So it was a blow to find out that the lids of Mason jars can contain that insidious plastic BPA.
My perfect food storage solution wasn’t so perfect after all.
Some companies do make BPA-free lids. You can also avoid BPA exposure by not filling food to the very top of the jar.
But in the end, what can you do?
The risks are everywhere.
As a kid, I remember reheating dinner plates in the microwave. That would have been fine—if we hadn’t covered them with plastic wrap.
You do the best you can. When you have kids, you try to do a little better. (I finally switched to making my own natural cleaning products a year ago, and it’s a mystery why I didn’t switch sooner.)
I feel like a good mother when I see the row of gleaming jars in the fridge, filled with delicious soups and sauces. And perhaps that’s why I do it:
Mason jars make me happy.
Just as Tupperware once made so many mothers happy.
So don’t change your food storage because you’re afraid of toxins. Do it for the fun of it. Life’s too short not to take happiness where you can find it. 😉