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Jul 14, 2009 11:51 PM

Malodorous plastic food packaging (and other rants)

OK, I may be completely nuts. But here's my dilemma.

I've noticed a disturbing trend in the last several years for food to be packaged in foul-smelling plastic containers. And it really bugs me.

I'm not talking about the sweet vinyl smell of a water bottle, or the musty notes of a milk jug; these are barely perceptible to me. The stink to which I refer is more like the pungent assault of the Taiwanese plastic shoes on the Target sale rack. Or the smell of cutting up an old credit card (or a new one, if your creditors have insisted, but that's another story).

I began noticing it on those removable plastic seals around bottle lids designed to prevent product tampering. Ripping it off would leave the smell on my hands and on the bottle. Then I noticed it with certain containers, especially baked goods in the supermarket. Today, I noticed my loaf of sliced French bread packaged is packaged in a crinkly wrapper I can smell at arm's length when handled.

Call me a nut case if you will, and you'd be right, but I am very sensitive to foreign odors and tastes in food: plastic, rubber and soap especially. (This from a guy who admittedly is sometimes not sure if he's eating beef or pork.) Still, I can't help but think others are aware of it: more and more I see restaurants switching to odor-free plastic gloves (thank you!) rather than latex. Anyway, if the golden palates on this forum will go to the trouble of rubbing a salad bowl with a garlic clove, might they too notice this disturbing packaging trend? Or have I finally gone over the edge?

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  1. I don't think you're nuts at all.

    I can't stand cling wrap, much of it smells like pungent artificial skunk to me. In many cases, if I get a product that comes in such wrapping I have to take it out and let it "breathe" then repackage it.

    I also won't go to places that use those foam containers for hot soup ... it just ruins the whole thing for me, even if I pour it into a real bowl right away.

    Don't get me started on plastic cups ... how can people not smell that? (Some folks think I'm being all eco because I drink my water at the office from a glass I brought from home, really it's that the plastic cups in the kitchen smell like toxic waste.)

    1. I smell it, too. Especially on commercial grade plastic wrap. Ugh! But I'm not sure everybody can. It may be a genetic thing, like supertasters. Maybe we're supersmellers.

      1 Reply
      1. re: AmyH

        I drive my husband crazy with my supersniffer. I CAN"T HELP IT! I have not, however smelled plastic on food, but if I did I would not be able to eat it! I live in a rural area with no Target (much to my extreme displeasure).

        I smell skunk in white wine every so often. It makes my husband mad when I say that or refuse to drink it without saying it because he KNOWS I am thinking it is skunky. We do not argue a lot, but my nose causes acrimony.

      2. I'm not a super smeller by any means, but I too am offended by the vile odor from commercial grade plastic wrap. I also can't stand the smell emitted from certain printed paper products, like pizza slice liners. It utterly grosses me out. My solution is to avoid it - and other food packaging - whenever I can. If given the choice, I prefer things that are packaged in less porous materials like aluminum foil or glass.

        I also take extra care to ensure that food packaging of a plastic or styrofoam nature is never heated up, as this surely releases more of the bad odors, which indicates offgassing. I'm not obsessive, but I do think it's best to avoid this if possible. Often this means perparing my own food, but that's my lifestyle anyways, so it works for me.

        1. A local grocery store I shop in regularly had a bad spell with smelly plastic bags. I used to have to transfer the bulk bin purchases as soon as I got home. Luckily either they changed supplier, or the bad batch ran out.

          I'm with the others about styrofoam containers. In fact, when i've had to drink out of it, I get a burning sensation that's not temperature related. Flavor wise it also takes away from whatever I'm trying to eat. Having spent long hours packing stuff with lots of styrofoam around a few times, I've always noticed that the nostrils and throat becomes irritated.

          The worse plastic smell that just wouldn't go away though, is from a wide mouth thermos made by OXO. The plastic part under the regular cap has a snap in for pouring and snap out to close. It's a real surprise that OXO would put out a product like this. I mean, the design is very promising at first, and i kept hoping that in time the smell (like burnt rubber) will mellow, but I finally threw it away, after a year of not too frequent use.

          1 Reply
          1. re: HLing

            thermos flasks always make coffee or tea smell a certain way. As far as I am concerned a thermos is for emergency use only!!

            I usually let meat breathe when I take it from the packaging to get the plastic smell away. I don't use cling wrap in my house, I prefer foil or tuppeware.

          2. I smell it too! I mostly notice it on the little plastic 'cups' that things are inserted into like newman's peanut better cups or little cookies that might break if they aren't inserted into form-fitting plastic cups. To me, it smells like petroleum. Not all plastic smells that way to me but these cup tray things are just too strong smelling. And, I am pretty sure I can smell it and taste it on the candy!

            Oh, well, where would we be without oil products? Whats that slogan? 'plastics make it possible'?