Reader question: How to get rid of that plastic taste in bento boxes?

Reader Sandy sent in this question recently. She’s having trouble with certain bento boxes, which are making her food taste like plastic!

Hi. I’ve recently begun collecting and using bento boxes (which I adore), but I’ve had some troubles when eating out of them. Everytime I eat something, it tastes like plastic. I’ve purchased almost all of my boxes through reputable sellers via ebay and have posted about this problem previously in another forum. One of the members there mentioned that maybe I was packing food that was too hot. Well, I tried cooling it down since then (not ice cold but lukewarm to the touch and easily held in the palm of one’s hand) but it still has a plastic taste to it. This is especially noticeable in foods without lots of spices to mask the flavor: rice, plain steamed veggies, etc… And while most of the boxes display this trait, not all of them do. My Lock and Lock bento and a Totoro single tier bento box I own do not have this characteristic, but both boxes have a noticeable different heft and feel to them than my regular Lube Sheep, Hakoya, or the other typical plastic wood grain usagi boxes. Is there a breaking in period? Have you experienced the same issues? Is there any kind of treatment I can use to keep my boxes from becoming bric-a-brac?

I’ve since purchased the small totoro aluminum bento box, but it’s soooo small. I’ve thought of wooden boxes but am afraid they might stain (I love Kimchee). And I can’t bear the thought of being limited to a Lock & Lock and single tier. Can you offer some advice so that I may continue to indulge my passion for this most adorable Asian hobby?

My reply:

I haven’t had a problem myself with any Lube Sheep or Hakoya bento boxes, but I’ve had issues with other plastic containers. I think the formulation of the plastic used in various bento boxes varies, so you could be more sensitive to one kind than another.

Here are some things to try:

  • Wash the boxes very well, then leave them out and open for a few days. The ‘new plastic’ smell should fade quite a bit. (This is the first thing I would do before anything else.)
  • Try leaving them out in the sun for about an hour (though if the sun is too hot that may warp the plastic, so check them frequently in warm weather).
  • Try putting coffee grounds in them, which will absorb some of the smell. Or baking soda.
  • If you still detect a plastic smell, try packing any sensitive foods in plastic wrap, to form a barrier.

Actually, some people do have a problem with that ‘plastic taste’ of plastic bento boxes. They use wood, bamboo, aluminum and stainless steel boxes instead. But as you say, most of those boxes are not in the ‘cute’ category. :) Anyway, try the steps above and see how it goes!

Do you have any suggestions as to how to solve Sandy’s ‘plastic taste’ problem?

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How to get rid of "plastic smell"

What I used to to before for those kinds of problematic containers was to soak them in warm-to-hot soapy water for at least an hour, rinse in hot water, wipe and air dry. One friend said is to put slightly soapy water in a clean plastic container and zap it in the microwave for 2 minutes to take out the taste — I’m not sure how good that would be health-wise.

Vinegar

Perhaps soaking them in vinegar would help?

I can taste plastic too

I’ve been the only one in my family that can taste plastic; they all make sure to use glass or ceramic glasses and cups for me (my brothers ex could taste it also). I can tolerate the clear hard plastic much better than the opaque plastics. I can store stuff in plastic as long as its cool, and then if it needs heating, move it to glass or ceramic casserole to nuke it, or a pan to heat it. I can taste plastic if the food is nuked in plastic, even if its moved to a regular dish.

Do they make ceramic bentos (like the soup cups)? If so, maybe she could use bubble wrap, plastic easter grass, or fitted baskets to protect it.

i know!!

i have a plastic one as well (two actually) and i can taste it in both of them!! i have thought of changing into something non-plastic but as mentioned before theyre just not cute!! (and some are even “manly” xD

Maybe she could line them

Maybe she could line them with a bit of lettuce, instead of plastic? It looks nice, and it’s biodegradable, too. Or make sure all the food is in silicone cups or muffin liners. I don’t have this problem myself, but the boxes I have are both hard plastic, from Muji. They’re both two tier, and hold quite a bit - since she loves collecting them anyway, she might just have to invest in new boxes :)

Vanilla, perhaps?

I don’t know how well this would work, but pure vanilla can get rid of some really nasty odours; it may work similarly for tastes. I would put a teaspoon or two of it in the box, put the lid on it, and let it sit at room temperature for an hour or two.

Tea!

In Ireland, we have always used the tea solution, which seems to eliminate any odours or flavours, not just plastic but also flasks which have been used for strongly flavoured soups, etc. Essentially, you make a very strong pot of tea, pour it in, and leave overnight. The only thing I haven’t managed to get this to work with is a Kilner jar which held very posh pickled onions. I think nothing will shift that! My mother also swears by Steradent, which is a product for cleaning dentures! But we always felt that the original odour or flavour was simply replaced by the Steradent, which is equally offensive.

smell

i always line my bento with lettuice- it looks lovely, is some extra healthy veggies to eat, and off course stops any box taste touching rice etc. before i did this (or if ive ran out of lettuice) i use paper muffin cases to hold pieces of sushi rice etc

Great ideas.

Thank you all for all the great suggestions, and thank you, Maki, for posting my problem online so I could get some help with my situation. Today I tried both the hot water and vinegar trick mentioned above to see if it will work. I even went to the extra step of immersing all the boxes in boiling water that had about half a cup full of vinegar added to it. I dipped each box in using silicone coated tongs to prevent scratching and held them completely submerged but not touching the bottom of the pan for a count of ten seconds. I had some hot rice today, but will have to forego testing until my cold clears up as I my senses are dulled. I will say, however, that the water in the pot did take on a very nasty odor when I was done, so I’m hoping it managed to “leech” some of the nastiness out. If not, I’ll skip down to the next suggestion and try again. Anything to keep from losing my boxes…especially since I’d love to add to my collection and 99% of the boxes that are easily available stateside are plastic.

Thanks again, and I’ll keep you updated on whether or not the process worked.

Ew?

I think if the plastic has such a nasty taste/smell, especially after washing, I’m not sure I would put food in such a container, as it sounds like low-quality plastic, and those aren’t always safe for foods to touch (cute or otherwise).

I would adore any and all

I would adore any and all links to non-plastic bento boxes (the Totoro Aluminum one, and the boxes on http://www.lifewithoutplastic.com/cart/storagecont.htm , are all I can find in English / shippable to the US). I just don’t like putting warm food in plastic, or eating out of it, but I love the portion control and pretty presentation of bento boxes.

reusing boxes of chocolates

Sometimes Valentine’s chocolates come in heart shaped aluminum boxes that are about the right size for bento, not to mention they’re super cute! :) (Actually this might be just one brand, which I believe is Almond Roca)

another one to try

Another method to try that I saw on Yahoo! Answers Japan (here), - try putting the white water that is produced when you wash rice into your bento box and leaving it for a day. No idea if it works, but it sounds safe enough and could work! (the question posed on that linked page is about getting rid of a plastic or ‘petrol’ smell in a plastic water pot.) The other answers were: soak in vinegar water, and soak in baking-soda water.

non-plastic bento boxes

I do sometimes see wooden bento boxes listed on eBay, and very occasionally aluminum ones. Stainless steel tiffins and other such boxes are an alternative, though many of them tend to be rather big.

The drawback of wooden bento boxes is that they do take some extra care. They also tend to be expensive. I don’t have a wooden one in my rotation right now, though I have one that I use occasionally for the tabletop. Each time I use it though I have to carefully wash and hand-dry it.

On JList/JBox, I see two cute little aluminum bento boxes: the Totoro one, and another Totoro one with Mei (the little sister) on the lid here. They are both small single-tier ones though…if I recall correctly the Totoro one is about 280ml capacity? I guess you could fill up both of them for a bigger bento, or use them for light days or for snack bentos.

It’s interesting that plastic seems to dominate the bento box market now - when I was growing up aluminum was king see here about retro aluminum bentos) and they could certainly be printed with cute pictures on the lids. I guess it’s because plastic is lighter and more colorful. On Japanese sites they do still sell aluminum bentos - see the listing here for instance. Maybe if there is more of a demand for them those ebay merchants will list more!

i have a fairly pricey

i have a fairly pricey zojirushi bento, and although it’s plastic it doesn’t seem to taint my food with any plastic taste. i don’t microwave in it, and i don’t put any hot foods in it, so that might help (i’m also very sensitive to the taste of plastic). the cheaper the plastic, sometimes the more toxic it is, and the worst thing you can do is expose plastic to heat if you’re going to be eating from it. someone above posted a link from the life without plastic website, but here is a direct link to their info about the toxins in plastic—>facts on plastic

some types are worse than others (the hard, clear, “nalgene” type is supposedly the most toxic, in fact some camping supply chain in canada stopped carrying nalgene bottles after the more recent data was released). i guess there’s not really a way of figuring out what your cute bento boxes are made of… i wish i didn’t have to sacrifice cute for safety, either. T__T

=O

I only feel the smell and taste of plastic when the food is microwave heated, microwave heated foods tend to absorb more flavour of their surroundings, from my experience especially rice, pasta and soup x.x

anyway, the vinegar+water thing has to be done with cold or not very hot water, the tops, cuz if the water’s too hot it usually ‘reactivates’ the plastic scent/flavour

plastic taste

I don’t know if this will work for the plastic taste, but when I pack strong-smelling food in my bento and the smell/taste hangs around after I wash it, I dismantle the box and soak the whole thing overnight in water and Oxyclean. It hasn’t failed me yet.

It worked...I think.

Today was the first day I ate out of my bento boxes since clearing up my cold, and I could not taste the plastic when I ate from it. So it would be a true “test” I put warm rice in the bottom tier and this plain white rice was what I first tasted when I got ready for lunch. I could taste the subtle rice flavor…the rice was cool but not dry, and I know it was warm when I put it in because condensation had formed on the bottom of the top tier…but that’s all I tasted. No plastic flavor at all. So it’s worked for this one box at least. While I can’t say 100 percent that it worked for all of them without trying them out first, I am pretty optimistic from this first trial and am looking forward to preparing bento lunches with my others. Tomorrow it’s onto Mr. Bento though. I’m serving soup and he’s the only one in my collection that stores soup sercurely.

sounds good Sandy! keep us

sounds good Sandy! keep us posted about Mr. Bento too if you can :)

Strong smell from Hakoya bento box

About a week ago, I bought a Hakoya bento box, washed it carefully, and let it dry open for several days. Since then I have soaked it in water with baking soda and also left it overnight with baking soda inside. Still, whenever I close the box for even an hour or two, it has a very strong chemical smell. I have not even tried to use it for food, because I’m afraid to ingest whatever it is that the plastic is giving off. I have never had this problem with plastic containers from the grocery store, for example, so I don’t think I am especially sensitive to plastic odors.

I haven’t tried vinegar yet. I just thought I’d write because of the statement above that you’ve never had problems with a Hakoya bento box. I suspect that there might be a difference from model to model. (Mine is of a style intended for onigiri and is decorated with a floral pattern suggestive of Japanese fabric.)

Use salt ...

I usually put salt and water in the container, leave it overnight … the smell should goes off.

Re: Reader question: How to get rid of that plastic taste ...

I agree with Caitlin that plastic that smells does not sound food-safe to me and certainly shouldn't be used in a microwave.

I'm new to the site and do not know where members live. However, where I live, plastic used for food is coded from 1 to 7. These numbers can be found on the container (usually on the bottom) within a triangle. Originally, this code determined whether the container could be recycled but, more recently, they are being used to identify plastics that leach toxic chemicals. Codes 2, 4 and 5 are safe to use as food containers for hot foods as long as they are not scratched or have become cloudy or stained. Code 1 plastic is often used for single use containers and should be thrown out after use or used to store foods in a refrigerator or freezer. Washing this plastic in a dishwasher or very hot water will contribute to the deterioration of the plastic. (Nothing that leaches from plastic is good for you and some of it is extremely toxic to things like your central nervous system.) Code 3, 6, and 7 plastic leach carcinogens and other toxins. Avoid these plastics altogether for use with food.

Until recently, I was interested in using polycarbonate panels for cold frames and a green house. Polycarbonate panels were becoming the material of choice for greenhouses because it did not break down rapidly from UV rays (don't keep your plastics in sunlight); was lighter than glass, and was virtually unbreakable. However, in the last few years, research has shown that it leaches BPA (7) bisphenol A - a chemical which attacks the central nervous system.

Personally, I wouldn't use plastics for food that were not identified by this or some other system, but I recognize that not all of you may have that choice.

Re: Reader question: How to get rid of that plastic taste ...

What I do for my Mr Bento is to soak it with hot water + dishwashing detergent half an hour before i wash them. If there is still a smell, I will further soak it with a wedge of lemon and hot water after I wash them. I leave them out to air-dry totally.

:)

Re: Reader question: How to get rid of that plastic taste ...

This will fix it once and for alll. Add a cup of bleach and a cup of white vineger. The fumes are horrific so be careful. Then top up with water and leave for half an hour or more. Swirl around and drain. Rinse our very thoroughly.

Re: Reader question: How to get rid of that plastic taste ...

I can't believe it's been two years since I originally posted this question. I wish I could say that all turned out as I had hoped (though it did turn out well in the end). I ultimately had to sell all of my plastic bento boxes. Some of the methods suggested did seem to work, but it was a temporary fix, and a few days later the taste would come back. I'm still able to bento though. Thanks to Maki's wonderful product reviews, I was able to purchase a couple of wooden bento boxes and have them shipped through a third-party buyer to the states. My primary box is the lovely elm wood single tier that was reviewed on this site, and I couldn't be happier.

Re: Reader question: How to get rid of that plastic taste ...

I think that some people are just sensitive to the taste of certain things - in your case you're probably more sensitive than most people to the taste and smell of plastic. I like to use wood as well as stainless steel boxes, though plastic boxes are the most practical. I'm glad the wooden boxes worked out for you!

Got rid of the plastic taste!

Hi all,

I'm an on and off bento fan and have recently started the new year with new bentos from a few countries in Asia whilst travelling.
The plastic smell can come across as very strong in some plastics. Also, another thing is the leftover smell of food or greasy touch.

The best way is to do a double-triple wash.
I first wash using fresh soapy water and sponge using cold water. Hot water tends to 'scald' the plastic and 'burn' smells onto the plastic. I then rinse it well and using clean hands pump a good amount of soap into my hands and manually clean and rub the interior and exteriors of the entire bento before rinsing using cold water.

Basically it has to squeak when rubbed.
Wipe dry using a clean cloth and cap it up immediately. It has worked for ALL of my bentos, and even after I've put soups or curries in them.
Tell me how it goes!

Re: Reader question: How to get rid of that plastic taste ...

I'm glad to see that so many people found different ways of getting rid of the plastic and food odors! It was always a huge problem for me when I was just using a divided compartment Tupperware-style container my wife had brought with her when we moved in years ago.

The way I usually go about getting rid of unwanted odors in my various plastic bento and thermal containers has been a sort of multi-tier process. Starting off with washing in hot water with an all natural soap like Dr. Bronner's Sal Suds and after an extremely thorough rinsing the various parts and seals are left to air dry overnight.

If that didn't remove the odors (plastic, food, etc) I go to soaking them for at least two hours in enough warm water to cover and enough baking soda to cloud the water. If that fails (say in the case of my homemade curry staining the rubber gasket on a Mrs. Bento), it's on to hot water soaking and salt scrubbing.

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