Q: I know you've said that I shouldn't use brown paper bags for cooking. Are there other items that we also shouldn't use?
A: Yes, there are several nonfood-grade materials that we should avoid using for food preparation and storage. Just because a material looks like a suitable food container doesn't make it safe for food. If a product isn't sold to hold food, don't use it for this purpose. For example:
Garbage cans: They weren't developed for cooking. It is especially dangerous cooking in galvanized garbage cans as they contain toxic metals that can leach into food.
Photo film canisters: Use small food storage containers instead.
Plastic trash bags: They are not food-grade plastic, and chemicals can leach into the food.
Paint 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.
While some 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." Here are some single-use items that are often misused:
Single-use 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. 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.
Disposable 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 hot foods.
Single-use wooden items: Some wooden food-related items, such as popsicle sticks and shish kabob skewers, are intended for onetime 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.
Lids with noncleanable liners: Glass jars can be cleaned and reused; however, you must be careful of reusing the lids. Lids with a noncleanable liner, such as a waxed cardboard liner, should not be reused.
It's important to microwave your food in safe ways using safe containers. USDA advises, "Microwave 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. Foam 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. These 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."
According to the 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 microwaveable meals after you use them because they are meant for onetime use."
Also, the FDA 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 1-inch or greater space between the plastic and the food during microwave heating."
Q: How do you clean vegetable brushes?
A: First, make sure to clean vegetable brushes 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.