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Are You Afraid of Your Plastic Food Containers? Replace Them With Glass.

by Lorraine Thompson on February 27, 2009

On a scale of 1 to 10, fear of plastic food containers is about a 5 for me. It certainly doesn’t induce full-scale panic. But it does add to my aggregated anxiety—along with the economy, cancer and those lines on my neck.

While I can’t do anything about Tim Geithner, cell mutation or middle age, I can do something about plastic food containers.

And this weekend I did. After months of procrastination, I took action and bought enough quality lidded glass containers to store and freeze all our family’s food and leftovers.

Now that I’ve converted, I’m a glass evangelist.

6 good reasons to switch from plastic to glass food storage

Since I’ve been saved from plastics’ evils, I want to guide you to the light. I believe once you understand the benefits of glass food storage, you’ll come around from the dark side of plastic food tubs and petrochemical Ziplock bags.

You’ll be glad to know my conversion rests on rational as well as emotional pillars. While I’m sure there are more, I’ve uncovered 6 reasons why glass is superior. Among its advantages, glass food storage…

  1. Looks prettier. Okay, glass’ beauty is the least rational reason to switch from plastic to glass. But esthetics are the number one reason why I made the change.

    Glass is simply prettier and more substantial looking than plastic. I enjoy the nostalgia stirred by glass kitchenware: I always loved my grandmother’s teal, cherry red and forest green Pyrex nesting bowls. Her etched glass casserole dishes, see photo below, were and are—I inherited them—a pleasure to the senses.

    I wouldn’t dream of putting a plastic container of food on my dining table. But I often roll Grandma S.’s casserole dish from fridge to stove to table—even for guests, see photo, below. Glass containers retain their crystaline attractiveness forever. Unlike plastic, glass’ non-porous surface doesn’t absorb dyes or colors. You can store Bolognese in glass one day and put whipped cream in it the next—with no fear of garlicky after notes or greasy red stains.

  2. I think this etched tempered glass casserole dish looks as nice now as when my grandmother used it back in her 1950s kitchen in Cailfornia's San Joaquin Valley.

    I think this etched tempered glass casserole dish looks as nice now as when my grandmother used it back in her 1950s kitchen in Cailfornia's San Joaquin Valley.

    Here's Rustic Bread Pudding baked in Grandma S.'s 50 year-old etched casserole Here’s Rustic Bread Pudding baked in my Grandma S.’s 50 year-old etched casserole

  3. Keeps food safe. Scientists no longer ask if toxic substances migrate from plastic to food during microwave heating. They ask how much toxins migrate. They ask if you should use plastic to reheat foods for kids, the ill, the elderly. They ask far too many questions and provide too few reassuring answers, as far as I’m concerned. No doubt scientists will continue to duke it out. In the meantime, I prefer to play it safe if not in my house of glass—in a  kitchen crammed with glass containers.

    On another safety note: Glass is cleaner than plastic. Glass’ non-porous surface doesn’t absorb food and germs and it can be safely washed at high temperatures in your dishwasher.

  4. Enhances food flavor. Ever notice how milk and marinara from your grocer taste better packed in glass? The same is true of home-stored food. Food simply tastes fresher, cleaner and fuller stored in glass. Glass’ safe, glossy surface repels food odors and residual flavors. And food reheated in glass—whether in a conventional oven or microwave—tastes superior to victuals nuked in plastic. You won’t find plastic’s steamy greenhouse effect—and food has a less soupy consistency and watery mouth feel.
  5. Helps clean-up the planet. Using glass rather than plastic significantly reduces landfill. It also saves energy on plastic’s inefficient recycling process. And unlike that metastasizing heap of mismatched plastic containers in your kitchen cupboard, once you invest in glass storage containers, your supply pretty much stays steady. With care, you’ll use your original glass containers almost indefinitely.

    If you break a glass container, you can recycle it without guilt:

    • Up to 80% of all recycled glass can be reclaimed.
    • Recycled glass uses 40% less energy than manufacturing new glass.
    • Recycling doesn’t compromise glass’ quality or structure and no toxins are produced in it’s recycling.

    A move to glass storage marks a raised consciousness—arguably glass’ most valuable environmental benefit. Your investment in glass helps you move from a throw-away mind-set to a more sustainable sensibility.

    Want more details on glass’ environmental benefits? Look here and here.

  6. Saves you money. Because glass is usually more expensive than plastic, at first glance, it seems a switch to glass will be more costly. But think about this: Unlike plastic, glass is pretty much a one-time investment. It actually saves you money in the long run. And glass comes in a wide range of prices—see Buying Guide, below.
  7. Eases food prep, serving and clean-up. You’ll find tempered glass food containers:

    • Move effortlessly from freezer to fridge to stove to table.
    • Reduce food waste—clear containers let you see what’s in the fridge and use up leftovers before they go bad.
    • Let you safely check food as it reheats—glass’ clarity allows you to see what’s happening without removing lids.
    • Wash-up faster and cleaner—you can safely pop glass into your dishwasher and cleanse at high temperatures.

What to look for when you shop for glass storage containers

To get the most from your investment in glass storage containers, look for:

  • Glass containers with tight-fitting lids made of glass, rubber or non-toxic plastic. Try to find flat lids without knobs for easier stacking, see photo below.
  • Oven-proof, freezer-safe tempered glass so you can move food from freezer to stove—or oven to fridge—without danger of cracked or broken glass.
  • Square or rectangular shapes that allow containers to stack easily, pack close together and take up less space in fridge.
  • Glass storage dishes are a pleasure to use—and affordable. I got the set above for $22.00 at Kmart and plan to use it indefinitely.

    Glass storage dishes are a pleasure to use—and affordable. I got the set above for $22.00 at Kmart and plan to use it indefinitely.

  • Attractive design: Whether you like clean-lined modern classics or funky vintage glass, you’ll find plenty of eye-pleasing designs now that glass containers are on your radar screen.

Glass Food Container Buying Guide

The following list is far from comprehensive. Please email me or leave a comment to tell me about your own glass sources and finds.

Here’s where I’ve seen great glass storage containers:

  • Kmart: I outfitted my kitchen with two sets of Martha Stewart 14-piece ovenware and storage sets, see photo above, and her Everyday lidded glass bowls for under $60.
  • Ikea: Those environmentally progressive, design-for-the-masses Swedes purvey very nice glass food storage containers. As soon as I can pull myself away from my laptop—how about never? Just kidding!—I’m heading to Ikea Brooklyn to buy at least ten of these.
  • The Container Store: While I’m put off by this store’s inflated pricing—that’s why I’m not linking to them—if price is no object, check them out. They offer an incredibly wide variety of glass storage containers and jars.
  • Flea markets and garage sales are a fun way to unearth fabulous bargains on vintage Pyrex and etched glass food storage containers.
  • Ebay. Warning: Vintage glass can become an addictive hobby—and Ebay is the Mecca for hobbyists of every stripe. Try searching for “vintage Pyrex,” “vintage glass casserole,” “vintage covered glass dish”—those are just a few of my obsessions. I’m sure you have your own. Don’t get me started on old lead-glazed Fiesta ware.
  • Your local hardware store. You’ll find large and extra-large Mason jars—a great storage option—at hardware stores and departments. While researching this post, I happened upon Elana’s Pantry, the wonderful gluten-free food blog. Elana makes beautiful use of oversized Mason jars for food storage. Check out her “Why Glass?” post here.

Photo courtesy of Eneas

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