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May 31, 2007 12:29 PM

Loves Chinese Delivery/Hates Melted Styrofoam [moved from General Chowhounding Topics]

OK, I just got of the phone with my favorite local Chinese delivery restaurant and YET AGAIN I went through a very long, very embarrassing harrangue (but polite and not loud - I do have my pride) asking, no - begging the phone person to MAKE SURE the chef lets the soup COOL OFF so it's warm, not hot, before pouring it into the styrofoam cup, because the cup gets all pitted and rough on the inside and the lid often splits and falls apart - indicating we are eating styrene - a chemical that contributes to one's chances of getting CANCER. This time I am going to give the delivery guy (whom I tip very well) the nasty cup from the last delivery (washed out of course) and I've asked the phone guy to make sure he feels inside this cup with his hand so he will understand what I am talking about. And make a note of my request for soup cooling-down before packing, because we order about once a week.

I'm not just ranting, although that has it's place, no - I'm hoping some chowhound will have an idea that will solve this problem once and for all. I'm stumped.

They just do not seem to get the message. Thanks!

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  1. Soups need to be uncovered to cool down, so cooling down a soup may be a health code violation if cooled too long: 1) the dish is not hot enough to impeded bacterial growth; 2) the dish is uncovered, which may result in food contamination.

    Having said that, I'm assuming you still want your soup slightly cooled-down anyway. I would forget the chemical aspect--I'm not certain that the kitchen staff would understand it, assuming that the message gets translated correctly in the first place.

    Instead, try telling them that the soup spills by the time you get home, because the heat has cracked the lid and melted foam. Thus, you cannot drink the soup by the time it gets to you, or most of it is lost. Putting the cup in a plastic bag doesn't help, because it only prevents the rest of the food from getting wet. Also, if you haven't already done so, order before the lunch/dinner rush and fifteen minutes earlier than you would normally do so. Hopefully, the cook will then find the time to let the soup cool. Otherwise, it would be difficult to keep track of one dish in a busy kitchen.

    1. How far is this place from you? I've resorted to picking up at one particular place (the delivery guy is creepy) and sometimes bring my own tupperware.

      1. I, too am a victim of the convenience factor, but maybe this irritation of yours is enough to pick up the soup (at least on occasion) and bring your own container. Perhaps drop off a few, and have them use the "niki jars" (I have no idea the size and scope of this resto, nor the relationship you have with them). IT may be worth a try to have a face to face discussion with them. Coming accross as a picky (*not* that you are) customer may not help your case, but present your argument as a case for going green, and you may get somewhere :) Report back, and good luck!

        1. When I was out in SGV in California, one of the things that interfered with enjoyment of food was the use of styrofoam. It's puzzling to me how California is supposed to be very recycle-conscious, and yet, many of the Chinese places use styrofoam. This is especially true with all the little Taiwanese places where even eating IN, the food comes in styrofoam. I wonder if I'm the only one who feel the strange sting from the styrofoam, while at the same time, the food that came in it cools down rather quickly and somehow imagined or not, the flavor dissipates just as fast.

          In New York city, where food delivery is the norm, most places use the hard semi-clear plastic tubs for soups or things with sauces. Rice still comes in the paper cartons. Maybe because there's so much traffic in delivery that places just know to make the transport secure and less hassle for the delivery person.

          Granted, I don't know if those plastic tubs are any better for your health or the environment...It's not as recycle friendly any more now that NYC only recycles the plastics with a number 1 or 2 marked, (those are usually marked 5, or 6), but it seems that it's collective regional choice. I do hope you complain more and start something....

          11 Replies
          1. re: HLing

            STOP THE PRESSES!!!
            Believe it or not I read in Friday's SF Examiner that San Francisco has just passed a restaurant styrofoam ban!!! I immediately tore out the article and placed it in the eroded, scary looking (but well cleaned by me of course) styrofoam cup in which Tao Yin delieved my last order of hot and sour soup (to which I am addicted and it is NOT easy for a Jew to make either, otherwise we wouldn't be having this discussion). Soooo...I am going to just mail the article about the new SF styrofoam ban and flattened cup to the manager, who speaks English as well, if not better than I do.
            Ha ha. The joke's on him.
            I cannot believe my good luck. SF DID ban it on ecological grounds, as styrofoam is not biodegradeable EVER apparently, no mention of the carcinogenic styrene molecules, but hey, who's going to quibble. I'm such a chowhound and I LOVE hot and SOUR soup - it's so weirdly comforting. I cannot convey just how happy I am about this. They are going to have to go back to the thickish cardboardy cups and lids that I vaguely remember from the pre-styrofoam days. Who woulda thunk it?

            1. re: niki rothman

              Restaurants would probably use recyclable plastic containers instead of those cardboard containers.

              1. re: raytamsgv

                That could mean I would still be getting molecules of nasty melted plastic in my soup, only of a different sort of plastic?

                1. re: niki rothman

                  Plastic melts at a much higher temp than styrofoam. You have nothing to worry about.

                  1. re: mojoeater

                    Yet...and still, I would prefer what in my childhood we called "Dixie cups". The cold cups were waxed heavy paper and the hot-cups were thinnish card boardy material. Actually, I think Starbucks and places like that serve the coffee in heavy paper cups, don't they? It's hard to believe, but I don't drink hot drinks to-go almost at all, so I'm sadly ignorant on this subject.

                    Here's why I think it would be better to place the hot, hot, hot soup in heavy paper cups and lids. Of course, we all do want to be less dependent on those wacky Arabs and their addictive petroleum based products, but also, scientific studies have shown that the more plastics of any sort we use the higher the levels of what are called "pseudo-estrogens" in our bloodstreams. WHY these female hormone molecular mimics emitted by all petroleum by-products like plastics are present in the gaseous molecules emitted, and solid molecules shed - that we inhale and ingest I do not know - but they are not good for us. They are especially not good for the smallest of us - babies - on whom any chemicals have the greatest impact. They are the canaries in the environmental coal mine. Forward thinking journals and researchers are now urging that babies not drink from plastic bottles and are recommending glass be substituted. So, in the case of what *I* eat, I'd greatly prefer that paper, not plastic, be holding my hot, hot, hot - hot and sour soup.
                    With these facts in mind, that even the harder plastics emit microscopic amounts of petrochemicals into very hot foods, for years now I've chosen to purchase thermos bottle carafes and hot/travel cups with metal and glass liners rather than placstic.

                    1. re: niki rothman

                      How do you store your food? Do you use tupperware?

                      1. re: mojoeater

                        Yes, I DO store almost all my food in plastic containers...and the way I feel about that dependency is not good. In fact I kind of hate it. Necessary evil.

                        And let's also mention my big bin of recycled supermarket produce-department plastic bags that hold almost all the food in my fridge that is not in Tupperware style containers. Believe it or not I have actually devoted quite a bit of thinking about this subject of just HOW profoundly, I a serious home cook, am dependent on plastics for storage and trying to come up with substitutes. And I am totally stumped. I do use glass jars when it's practical, but that only represents a fraction of my food storage. It could be dangerous in the side by side freezer, for example, or butter-fingers me in the soapy sink. My hands ALREADY always have several cuts and burns at all times.

                        If you or anyone else has any food storage ideas for replacing all that plastic in my fridge I'd love to hear them. But, by rights I guess that should be another (very good and interesting) thread here.

                        File under "Strange but True" - when my mother in law had to go into a nursing home, the first thing I appropriared from her house was all her twist ties! I'm not proud of that, but her daughter DID get the jewelery...

                      2. re: niki rothman

                        The problem I see with using paper products is that they will inevitably absorb the liquid and begin to deform permanently, especially if they have cardboard lids which steam and splashing soup will mess up in rapid order (I seem to recall Starbucks and the like have plastic lids). Once that happens, there's a very good chance it will burst or leak all over you.

                        Harder plastics have the advantages that they don't absorb water and deform permanently. They're also cheaper and probably take fewer resources to manufacture as opposed to paper. But, as you noted, there may be other problems associated with them.

                        The best solution would be to bring a glass container to the restaurant and ask them to put the soup in there. Unfortunately, this means you need to go the restaurant yourself. This may be a bit inconvenient for you, but at least you will have peace of mind--no plastics in your soup, no bursting container, and no paper to throw away.

                        1. re: raytamsgv

                          The suggestion of a re-useable, exchangeable container where I would have a few and give an empty to the delivery guy every time he comes is probably the best idea. I shall have to spend a little time thinking about and then obtaining the proper containers and then negotiating with the management at Tao Yin. Asking them to set aside some space to keep my particular property safe and clean in the chaos that may well be the kitchen of this very busy restaurant does sound awkward and difficult. really. I'll have to think about it.

                          I actually had a little fantasy about going to a restaurant supply business and purchasing a case of Starbuck's type large paper cups with lids and giving IT to the delivery guy.

                          The safest container would actually be something I already own and could conceivably purchase a couple more of - a stainless steel lined quart holding thermal carafe or thermos. Although the investment is going to be substantial. These things cost about $30 minimum. And then what happens when they lose them, or the person on the phone is a new hire and/or doesn't know or remember what I am talking about - and English may well be a second language. It all just sounds so bizarre and unlikely to succeed. Restaurant turn-over being what it is...

                          The problem with the glass container, which would be easily obtained by me for free - like a recycled pickle jar, and this little catastrophe has really happened to me at home more than once, is that when one pours a lot of boiling hot liquid in a glass container it cracks. I do not want to risk that kind of accident and even possible burns to an employee that might very well result.

                          Still taking suggestions as the conversation reels into the increasingly surrealistic...

                          1. re: niki rothman

                            I believe the previous poster was suggesting you pick up your food as opposed to delivery if you are concerned with the packaging. I don't think you can expect a restaurant to keep special things on hand for your specific orders.

                2. re: niki rothman

                  I live in the Peoples Republic of Ashland, Oregon, and styrofoam has been banned here for about five years. I'm so accustomed now to not using it, that I'm appalled when I find it in grocery stores, dollar stores, drive-thrus, etc., when traveling outside my home turf.