Plastic Food Containers: Should U.S. Health Departments Allow Reuse?

The use of plastic food containers in restaurants and grocery stores is a common practice in the United States. These containers are often used for takeout orders, leftovers, and prepared foods. However, the question of whether these containers should be reused has sparked a debate. While some argue that reusing plastic containers can help reduce waste and save money, others worry about the potential health risks associated with this practice. This article will explore both sides of the argument, providing insights into the potential benefits and drawbacks of reusing plastic food containers.

The Case for Reusing Plastic Food Containers

There are several reasons why health departments might consider allowing the reuse of plastic food containers. These include:

  • Environmental benefits: Reusing plastic containers can help reduce the amount of plastic waste that ends up in landfills. This is particularly important given the growing concern about plastic pollution.
  • Economic benefits: For restaurants and grocery stores, reusing plastic containers can result in significant cost savings. This can help businesses keep prices low for consumers.
  • Convenience: For consumers, being able to reuse plastic containers can be very convenient. It eliminates the need to transfer food to another container before storing it in the fridge or freezer.

The Case Against Reusing Plastic Food Containers

Despite these potential benefits, there are also several concerns associated with reusing plastic food containers. These include:

  • Health risks: Some types of plastic can leach harmful chemicals into food, especially when heated. This can pose a risk to human health.
  • Food safety: If not cleaned properly, reused plastic containers can harbor bacteria and other pathogens. This can increase the risk of foodborne illness.
  • Quality issues: Over time, plastic containers can become scratched or damaged. This can affect the quality of the food stored in them.


In conclusion, while there are clear benefits to reusing plastic food containers, there are also significant concerns that need to be addressed. Health departments need to weigh these factors carefully when deciding whether to allow the reuse of these containers. It may be that certain types of plastic are safe to reuse, while others are not. Alternatively, health departments may decide to allow reuse with strict guidelines in place to ensure food safety. Ultimately, the goal should be to protect public health while also considering environmental and economic factors.