I’ll have to admit, when I set out to write this article, I began researching plastics with the idea that I would present which plastics are safe to cook and store in and which ones aren’t. There is so much conflicting information available that I began to get a little overwhelmed and confused. So rather than give anyone the wrong information, I’m just going to go over what is safe to use when preparing and storing food.
NOTE: Betsy wrote a similar article on safe cookware and bakeware options, and another article on 3 types of unsafe cookware to avoid. Enjoy all these articles and use them to come up with your own best options.
Safest Cookware Alternatives
When it comes to your food, there are a few safe alternatives to non-stick cookware and plastics. In the past I liked the convenience of storing a plastic bowl in the fridge and heating it in the microwave. No more! Now I’m using other methods.
Stainless steel has been around for at least the past few decades, possibly longer. Stainless steel is impervious to stains and odors, heats evenly, and cleans well. It can be used with acidic foods, where copper and aluminum can’t. There are some very costly pots and pans but you can also find them inexpensively.
Note from Matt and Betsy: this is the cookware we use every day and recommend. This set works great and is very affordable.
Cast iron cookware is one of the all-time greats, and we already wrote all about it! (Read our cast iron cooking article.)
Note from Matt and Betsy: like stainless steel, our cast iron skillet is a daily chore-hound. We recommend all homes have a cast iron skillet like this.
Glass is one of the easiest and safest materials to cook with. It will withstand high temperatures, heat from the outside in, and won’t pick up colors and odors like plastics can. It can also be sealed and stored in the fridge or freezer.
Glass can be used like a double boiler, placing a bowl over a pot of hot water to use indirect heat. Some glass pans can be used directly on a stove top. They are made to deal with the heat. They can also be used in the oven and hold the heat better than metal pans.
Note from Matt and Betsy: we mostly use glassware for baking. This is the set we use – it also includes glass food storage containers.
Ceramic or pottery has also been used for quite a long time. You can cook in ceramic pots and pans in the oven, although most can not stand direct heat. They are also good for food prep and can be washed easily.
Note from Matt and Betsy: Xtrema Ceramic cookware is a very reputable brand!
This is an iffy area as some places I checked said that some silicones contain BPA that can leach when heated. To be safe, choose silicone that is BPA free.
Those that are safe can be heated to 400° F, and some higher, without melting. I have used my silicone cake pan in the oven many times and it works great. The only drawback is that the cake pans, and possibly others, are floppy and need another pan to support them.
While most people don’t cook with wood, it certainly can be used in the kitchen for food preparation. I have a few good wood bowls that I have had for years and use them all the time. Look for wood that has not been treated, except maybe with an oil for finishing. Avoid woods that could cause allergy problems. I have a lovely mango wood bowl, but I can’t use it when one of my friends comes over as she is very allergic to mangoes.
Like wood, bamboo makes an excellent serving and food prep bowl. And there are many bamboo tools that can be used in cooking. Bamboo steamers have been used since the dawn of time (ok, not really, but it’s been hundreds of years!) and just last year I went to a tailgate market where a woman was selling rice steamed in bamboo. It was great! I also have to mention bamboo salt, since I knew nothing about it until I wrote the article about salt (see it here). Bamboo salt is made in bamboo and contains many essential minerals that your body needs.
What about aluminum and copper?
It’s thought that aluminum may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease, so in view of that, I can’t rightly recommend it. And copper will react to many foods, especially acidic foods like tomatoes, so I’ve left it off the list as well.
Safest Food Storage Alternatives
Glass, like glass jars, can be used to store foods very easily. It can be frozen and heated, and can be sealed using canning methods. Storing in clear glass containers also makes it easy to see what you have.
Like glass, stainless steel can be used for storing foods. It can be washed easily and can be used to reheat foods. One drawback is that you can’t see into it, but you can label it. Insulated stainless containers (like this) will keep foods hot for several hours, so foods can be heated on the stove, transferred to stainless, and enjoyed warm later in the day. This is a great tip for anyone looking to avoid microwaves when taking food to work or school.
Ceramics can be used much like glass for storing foods. They come in a wide variety of shapes and colors. They are easy to clean and can be frozen as well.
for short term, such as storing bread a day or two, paper bags work very well. They are inexpensive and can be composted when you are done with them.
Wax-coated Fabric Food Wrap
A while back Betsy wrote an article about making your own wax coated fabric food wrap. I fell in love with the idea and have made several now. They are inexpensive and easy to make.
Again, look for BPA-free silicone. It is considered safe for storing foods long term.
I have used wax paper for years to store foods and have only recently begun to question what kind of wax is being used. Lucky for me, I found some beeswax wax paper at my local grocery store and have been happy with that. I also found beeswax-coated fold-over bags for sandwiches. I use them for all sorts of things.
While some plastics may be safer than others, I’ve chosen not to include them in my lists as I wanted to give options for those who want to totally avoid plastics. Also, many plastics once deemed safe have since been found unsafe, so using plastics is a bit like playing Russian Roulette!
Have you found a safe alternative to using plastics for food use? Tell us about it!