Is It OK to Reuse Plastic Sandwich or Freezer Bags?
Here's how often you can reuse zip-top bags, takeout containers and other food storage containers.
The idea of reusing zip-top bags is a pretty polarizing topic. Some save and reuse them for economic or environmental reasons. Others can't imagine using a zip-top bag more than once. Whether you reuse or regularly recycle food storage bags and containers is a personal choice. If you do decide to reuse these products, here's how to do so safely.
First, You Can Reuse Zip-Top Plastic Bags — Sometimes
Re-sealable plastic bags like Ziploc aren’t cheap, and reusing them can be a money-saving strategy. According to a Ziploc representative, the Ziploc Storage, Freezer, Snack and Sandwich Bags are reusable by hand washing and thoroughly drying prior to reuse. However, if the bags were used to store raw meat, fish or eggs, or potentially allergy-triggering foods (for example, tree nuts or peanuts), they should not be used for any other food items.
Bags used for microwave cooking like Ziploc Zip 'n Steam™ Bags should not be reused to avoid cross-contamination. For example, a Zip 'n Steam™ bag should not be used to cook chicken and then used to cook vegetables. However, if you cook a food item for a meal, but do not eat the entire portion, you can use the bag to store the food and then reheat in the same bag the next day.
External conditions will impact the number of times a bag can be reused, so use a new bag if the zipper no longer zips or if the plastic becomes thin or torn.
Each brand of zip-top bag varies slightly in recommendations. Visit the manufacturer's website for full information on how to reuse the ones you have.
How to Reuse Tupperware
If you love your Tupperware and are wondering how long you can reuse it, Dia Lugo, a culinary expert for Tupperware says, “Tupperware products are created and used as responsible solutions to reduce plastic and food waste, and are meant to be reused for years to come, often handing them down to family members. As long as your Tupperware product is not damaged, you can continue to enjoy it!” Lugo says to ensure that your Tupperware product stay in good shape, consumers should avoid exposure to direct heat or flame, avoid cutting or slicing food directly on the containers and minimize sunlight over a long period of time, as this may cause fading and warping.
To wash the Tupperware containers, use a soft sponge and non-abrasive cleaning agents. It is recommended to wash Tupperware products before their first use. The majority of Tupperware products can be safely washed in a dishwasher, this is typically indicated with a small logo on your product. If you are unsure if your Tupperware product is dishwasher safe, you can find more information on their website.
What About To-Go Restaurant Containers?
Have you ever reused restaurant containers? While we certainly recommend washing before reusing, especially during the current pandemic, this is generally okay, according to restaurant professionals. “At Panera, our packaging is created to be both durable and functional. That makes it easy for guests to enjoy their favorite menu items outside of our cafes and even reuse our containers in a variety of ways,” says Sara Burnett, Vice President of Wellness and Food Policy at Panera. The plastic to-go cups, as well as plastic cups you purchase in-store, can be refilled and re-used at home multiple times. Plastic salad containers and soup containers are also re-useable.
However, you should refrain from putting to-go containers in the microwave. “Anything from paper cups to plastic cups can become very hot to the touch or melt when microwaved, so be sure to transfer foods to a microwave-safe dish before warming them up," says Burnett.
Other Reusable Container Solutions
There are many reusable alternatives to plastic bags, plastic wrap and aluminim foil on the market. Common alternatives are silicone bags like Stasher and Bees Wrap, which is similar to plastic wrap, but can be reused over and over. Reusable packaging brand, Package Free also offers many alternatives. Lauren Singer, founder & CEO of Package Free says, their silicone bags can be used up to 3,000 times.
For something that lasts longer than plastic to-go containers, invest in some glass or metal containers. As a material, stainless steel is long lasting, incredibly durable, and infinitely recyclable. Plus, most reusable containers are dishwasher, oven, and freezer safe. However, metal should not be put in the microwave.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.