‘I’m a Food Scientist, and This Hack Will Help Keep Your Food Storage Containers Stain-Free Forever’

Photo: Stocksy/Martí Sans
Picture this: You finally find some truly fantastic, BPA-free, microwave-safe, heavy-duty food prep containers at Home Goods (they always draw me in, okay?) and promptly rush home to put them to good use. You rinse them out and fill them with leftover lasagna. Then, when hunger strikes, you grab said container, pop it in the microwave, and enjoy every last cheesy tomato pasta layer. The only problem is, once you rinse the container out, you notice a pesky reddish-orange stain all over the supposedly high-quality plastic. What gives?

According to Natalie Alibrandi, CEO of Nali Consulting and food scientist who specializes in food microbiology and quality assurance, the most common reason plastic containers become stained is when highly acidic foods are stored inside—tomato sauce being a prime example. This situation worsens when that acidic food is transferred into the container while it is still hot, or if the acidic food gets reheated inside the plastic container itself (or both).

Experts In This Article

How to prevent food storage container stains, according to a food scientist and Reddit

With all of this in mind, Alibrandi says that it is a best practice to avoid heating plastic food containers in the microwave entirely, even if they are labelled microwave-safe. Instead, try to only store cooled foods inside of them, and transfer leftovers to a serving dish instead of heating them in the plastic.

Of course, that is not nearly as convenient as just popping a food prep container into the microwave and immediately enjoying a meal without the hassle of adding another dish to clean to the process. We're only human, after all. And seeing as that is such a common thought process, a new trick for avoiding permanently stained plastic food storage containers has emerged on Reddit and (unsurprisingly) immediately went viral.

The hack is as brilliant as they come: Spray your food storage container with a layer of nonstick cooking spray before putting any leftovers inside of it. The theory behind it is simple—the spray creates a thin protective layer, which helps prevent the plastic from absorbing the bright orange sheen (and scent) of your spaghetti sauce. And as an added perk, your food will slide right out when you're ready to reheat it.

The real question is, of course, whether or not it really works. And more importantly, is it safe? Keep reading to find out what the food scientist has to say.

Can a layer of cooking spray really prevent storage container stains?

"You bet," Alibrandi says. "The oil helps create a barrier between the container and the food—therefore, your leftovers will slide out pretty stain-free."

She affirms that the most effective method for maintaining stain-free containers, however, is to avoid plastic entirely. "In fact, the best way to prevent all stains while storing and reheating tomato-based products is to use glass containers instead.”

It's perfectly healthy—but you can use olive oil if you prefer it.

Cooking spray is designed to be cooked with, so is it safe to use it as a protective layer for plastic as well? According to Alibrandi, it is totally fine. “A little bit of oil spray won’t do any damage whatsoever,” she says. “However, it’s important to choose a spray that has minimal or no hydrogenated fats.” Alternatively, she says that a healthier option is to pour some olive oil into the container and spread it around with a paper towel.

The takeaway

This Reddit hack for preventing food storage stains gets the stamp of approval from the food scientist. That said, Alibrandi strongly feels that glass containers are always your best bet for all acidic and/or tomato-based foods, as they won’t stain regardless. Glass containers are also free from BPA and completely safe to go in the microwave—and in addition to stains, they will never absorb odors.

If you feel inspired to swap your plastic containers for glass ones, find a few of our favorite airtight options below. After all, what's more precious (and worth preserving properly) than leftover lasagna?

The best glass food storage containers

Photo: Williams-Sonoma
Pyrex Ultimate 10-Piece Glass Storage Set — $70.00

Stain-free storing, transporting, and reheating foods has never been easier than with it will be with these gorgeous glass containers. Both the containers and the lids are made of durable glass, which allow you to easily view the contents and to be assured that your food will not come into contact with any chemicals. Silicone rims ensure an airtight, leak-proof seal and are oven, microwave, freezer, and dishwasher safe. This set includes five containers with lids: 16-oz., 24-oz., 32-oz., 48-oz. and 56-oz.

Photo: Amazon
Snapware 24-Piece Glass Storage Container Set — $58.00

The Snapware Total Solution Food Storage Set combines oven-safe glass containers with four-latch plastic lids that will resist stainage. They’re the most airtight in the biz, so you know that your leftovers will stay fresh for as long as possible The 24-piece set includes two each of 4-cup square and 4-cup round, four each of 1-cup round, and 2-cup rectangle with snap lock lids.

Photo: Amazon
Rubbermaid Brilliance Glass Storage Containers, 6-Piece Set — $25.00

Rubbermaid Brilliance Glass Food Storage Containers have crystal-clear lids that are 100 percent airtight and leak-proof, plus all parts are odor- and stain-resistant. As an added benefit, the glass containers have vented lids for easy, splatter-resistant microwaving. The glass is oven-safe, BPA-free, dishwasher-safe, microwave-safe, and freezer-safe.

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