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?