We all know there are plenty of reasons to use less ‘single use plastics’ in feeding our families.
The impact of pollution from plastic production and waste on the environment, and then the recycling crisis quickly come to mind. But there’s also the recent statement from the American Academy of Paediatrics about children’s health and reducing the contact of food with certain types of plastic. (You can read more about it in Julia’s article here). It all makes you stop and think.
In our home we have always recycled, and have a compost, a worm farm, and chooks to help with our waste management. But it’s recently been drawn to our attention that this isn’t enough. So we have begun reducing what we buy and use with plastic, and have looked into a range of reusable, plastic free options (and ensuring the plastics we do use are food safe and heat safe).
In doing this though, the issue of food safety of reusable items around food kept popping up.
A barista in my local cafe said that some shops were refusing to use reusable take away coffee cups as they may not be properly cleaned. A university nutritionist discussed hazards of beeswax wraps in children’s lunch boxes- they’re a biological material that is not heat stable – a potential gold mine for bugs. The issue of the bacteria E. coli in reusable shopping bags, identified many years ago, also came to mind. (Which you can read about here.)
So, in choosing reusable products, I wondered, does it mean we are putting our families at risk of illness? Well, no – it doesn’t have to, but it does require a little elbow grease!
I spent some time looking at commercial food safety information to help guide our practice in the home. And from all this the key point seems to be that food storage products that can be successfully reused, need to be regularly, easily, thoroughly cleaned. Even our shopping bags!
The principals of commercial food safety – used in food manufacturing and commercial kitchens – tell us that to be free of those nasty bugs, surfaces that come in contact with food need to be both cleaned and sanitised.
Cleaning refers to the removal of food and other types of deposits from a surface that comes in contact with food. Types of cleaners include detergents, solvent cleaners, acid cleaners and abrasive cleaners – and they need to be food safe. For in home use, detergents and abrasives seem to be the most widespread affordable and practical methods.
Sanitisation however, means decreasing the number of microorganisms that are on a properly cleaned surface, to a safe level. An item needs to be properly cleaned, otherwise it is not possible for the sanitiser to effectively work on the surface.
Sanitisaton can be via heat, chemicals, pH changes or UV irradiation. A range of methods are available to commercial kitchens and food production facilities. Chemical and pH sanitizers are generally only used in the home environment for surface preparation – think bleaches and sprays, or even vinegar that may be used on sinks and bench tops. Heat is an other great method that can be transferred into the home.
So to adequately clean and sanitise reusable food storage products to prevent food borne illness, what should we do?
First choose the right re-usable products. This means those made out of food safe materials, that can be effectively cleaned. If something has hard to reach crevices, or is made of a material that can not be put in hot water or the dishwasher or washing machine this raises some red flags.
If hand washing, clean major food soiling using a food safe detergent and abrasive – good old fashioned dish detergent on a soft scourer is fine. There should be no visible material left.
A trip through the hot cycle of a dishwasher will sanitise products too. Or for fabric products like sandwich wraps, snack pockets and produce and shopping bags, a separate hot cycle of the washing machine. Otherwise a separate clean sink of hot water at 77 degrees celsius is recommended here by Food Standards Australia New Zealand. For other products, alcohol wipes or undiluted vinegar can also sometime be used. (For my family, I’ve started using more silicone, stainless steel and cotton canvas products that can all go in the hot cycle of the dishwasher, or the washing machine.)
Sticking to your most basic principals of food hygiene is essential too – always washing utensils, washing produce, washing hands. And food needs to be appropriately stored, with high risk foods being kept out of the temperature danger zone of 5-60 degrees celsius, and following the 2 hour/4 hour rule of food temperature storage. You can read more about that here from FSANZ too.
While it can seem like a little more effort than throw away single use products – it is worth giving a go. Bulk food purchases and reusable products done right can mean a healthier family, healthier environment, and can help you save money too.
Little changes all add up!
x Angela @ Bloom