Thursday, July 7, 2011

Keeping food fresh, safe, and attractive

The square, glass jar at top left is a Kilner jar. The other jars are bail-and-gasket, except for a little screw-top jam jar in the middle of the bottom shelf. The Glassware comes in a variety of sizes of glass dishes, and their matching plastic lids have built-in gaskets.

My refrigerator

Recently, I’ve switched over to glassware for food storage in my kitchen. I used to re-use plastic, quart-size yogurt containers for storing prepared foods, but I started to become aware of the dangers of hot food in plastic containers, and wanted to move away from using them. When I wanted to put away food that was still warm, or pack a lunch that would be microwaved in the office, I would ask myself, what chemicals are we eating in our food when we heat the disposable plastic containers food is stored in? I don’t want to be called an alarmist, but I don’t know that “acceptable” levels of toxins are low enough, either.

For health reasons, but in some degree also for the aesthetics, my husband and I replaced our cabinet full of take-out containers, mismatched brands of plastic containers, and quart yogurt containers with an all-glass alternative. We bought two solutions: one old-fashioned, and one new.

The old
To store liquids, like soup or homemade yogurt, I use canning jars. Mine are wide-mouth, quart-size glass jars with a wire bail (or bale; both spellings are common) and rubber gasket instead of a screw-on lid. Sometimes these are called Weck jars, or Fido, after a couple of popular manufacturers of jars that use gaskets or wire bails or both. Another similar product is the Kilner (or Kelner) jar, which can have a wire bail closure instead of a screw top, but does not have a separate gasket. Because of this difference, Kilner jars are not suitable for canning, only storage. I don’t use my jars for canning, although they would work.

The new
Costco had 18-piece sets of Glasslock containers, and we bought two sets. These are square and rectangular containers in a range of sizes, each with a snap-on plastic lid that has an inner gasket to seal shut. The largest sizes are perfect for quantities of prepared foods and packed lunches. I can fit a two-cup recipe of rice, or a whole roasted chicken cut into pieces, into one of the 1.5 quart containers. I pack a lunch into a quart container: about three-quarters full is usually the right amount of food. The smallest sizes I use for bits of leftovers, to pack single servings of oatmeal, and for sides of tangy salads like these.

With both of the products I’m using, the Glasslock containers and the bail-and-gasket jars, only glass touches the food while it is still hot. The Glasslock containers are microwave safe (I use them in the oven, too; it’s tempered glass), though any jar with a wire bail should not go into the microwave. The Glasslock containers and lids, as well as the jars and their removable gaskets, are dishwasher safe.

I continue to label foods when I put them away by writing on a piece of masking tape with a marker and indicating any ingredients of note and the date it was made. Meat, dairy, and wheat are the three I usually make note of, since these are important to my most frequent houseguests. I’ve replaced opaque plastic with clear glass containers, so while I still label them with masking tape, if the contents are obvious and simple, sometimes I only record the date. The dates help me to rotate stock so there’s less waste.


Packing a salad for lunch in a plastic quart-size yogurt container keeps the salad from being crushed, and makes a great salad shaker.

I haven’t gotten rid of the yogurt containers. They’re so lightweight compared with the glass jars, yet crush-resistant. I use them to pack salads with our lunches. I use a thick, creamy salad dressing, so when I pack the salad, I put a little dressing in on top, and it stays put. When I’m ready to eat my salad, I shake it first to distribute the dressing. If your dressing is thinner, such as a vinaigrette, you can pack it separately so it doesn’t wilt your greens, then use the yogurt container to shake up your salad after you add the salad dressing.

I also bring the yogurt containers with me to the farm and take them into the u-pick fields. They make excellent, lightweight containers for delicate produce like berries, beans, small greens, and herbs, and take up little space when stacked.

I haven’t bought enough jars yet for my all of my dry goods storage needs, so I continue to use yogurt containers in my cupboards for bulk items.

The last place I use the quart yogurt containers is as storage for used cooking oil. I save bacon grease and chicken pan drippings in labeled glass dishes with plastic lids, to use in cooking. To safely dispose of used cooking oil and grease that I do not want to reuse, I cool it to room temperature, then store in a plastic container. I add cooled grease and oil to the container and keep it in the refrigerator until it is full, and then throw the whole thing away.
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