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Malodorous plastic food packaging (and other rants)

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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'?

            1. Yep, you're nuts.

              Ok, kidding. I am not usually bothered by food packaging, but styrofoam cups, especially when used for a hot beverage, totally ruin the whole thing for me. Intolerable.

              And I never, ever heat my food up in the microwave while it's still in a plastic storage container - the whole thing will smell and taste like the container - yuk.
              Heat seems to be accelerator for me.

              Also, whenever I buy dishwashing detergent (powder), I specifically ask the grocery bagger to please put it in a separate bag. If he puts it in a bag with other items, they will ALL smell like the detergent.
              Same with dryer sheets - absolutely do NOT put those in the same bag as any of my food, or I may throw a fit. It really does taint the food and ruin it.

              You may just be super sensitive to whatever chemicals are used in the production process of plastics. I read somewhere that cats like to chew and lick plastic bags because they are strangly attracted to the smell of either the chemicals, or to the "animal by-products" used in manufacturing plastic bags. Eww.

              1. yes, the move to more plastic is upon us. It maybe part of the whole less-product variety-is-more-profit-for-us business model during the current economic quagmire.

                I noticed it very sharply when I went to Smart & Final (wholesale supplier/grocer for small resto's etc on the west coast). They used to have bulk pak aluminum trays about 4x6" with a foil-lined cardboard lid that crimped onto the container. I'd use them for storing leftovers or extra meals in the freezer. I ran out, and went yesterday to get them, and they are no longer carried. The only thing similar is a pan twice the size, packed (shrink wrap, of course) 3 pans and lids to a unit at about 5 times the cost.

                LOTS of plastic containers, however. Flimsy, rigid styrene types. Not suitable for freezing. Gladware for freezing has new shelf space. They even have gladware for cooking in! ack.

                I've noticed that S&F's hard goods product line has shrunk incredibly the last year and their supply mix has given way to square footage designated to grocery items including fresh fruit and veegies, none of which are of more than average quality.

                1. What I find almost inedible is most basmati rice. Nothing wrong with the rice until it got packed in a burlap bag printed with stinking, petroleum based inks. Yeeeccchhhh.

                  1. Ok, this is kind of weird. I read this thread a few days ago but had never experienced this until just now. I just made a grilled cheese sandwich that i could barely eat because the bread had such a strong plastic-y/chemical odor. I bought it at Trader Joe's (where I've bought bread before and never had an issue). Is it possible that a new type of plastic is being used that possibly leaches more into the contents it is holding? I'm sort of freaked out right now as I've never experienced anything quite so gross before. I think I might be tossing out the rest of the bag of bread just to be safe. Ugh.