Curiosities: Is it safe to reuse plastic knives and forks?

Aug. 9, 2010

Single-use kitchen plastics — such things as plastic eating utensils, cups and containers from cottage cheese, sour cream, chip dip, margarine, and milk — are ubiquitous and it may seem environmentally sensible to wash and reuse them.

“Upon exposure to detergents and hot water, the plastic material can begin to degrade, allowing chemicals to leach into foods and beverages.”

Barbara Ingham

But according to UW-Madison food science professor Barbara Ingham, these items are not made of materials designed for repeated use or cleaning with hot soap and water. "Upon exposure to detergents and hot water, the plastic material can begin to degrade, allowing chemicals to leach into foods and beverages," Ingham explains.

What's more, Ingham adds, plastic utensils may have edges that curl over or ridges that collect bacteria that cannot easily be cleaned.

So, while it may be tempting to reuse plastic forks and knives, the best bet for family picnics or community events is to bring 'real' silverware from home (and plates too!) and use those for the safest, and most environmentally friendly, option.