With aluminum being so popular and widely used for a number of different food applications, it is only natural for us to wonder whether or not we should be mindful of how we use it.
Aluminum foil is cheap, greaseproof, and, although it may easily tear sometimes, it is very pliable, making it suitable for covering food storage containers and wrapping food.
However, is aluminum foil safe for hot food storage? Aluminum foil is not safe for storing hot food. Storing hot foods in aluminum foil can lead to aluminum migrating from the foil and into the stored food. High aluminum intake may not be safe and has been linked with a number of medical conditions.
With all that being said, if you are curious about finding out more about how the aluminum foil interacts with your food – continue reading below, where I share more interesting information.
Why Is Aluminum Used to Wrap Hot Foods?
Aluminum foil is so easy to use. It is very thin and pliable and can wrap all kinds of foods and food containers.
If you don’t enjoy constantly washing all the messy baking trays and pans, aluminum foil can help you.
Aluminum foil will contain the mess. It can also be used on the barbecue or when camping to bake food on the campfire coals.
Aluminum foil is about 92 to 99% aluminum. It is made from pieces of aluminum that have been run through rollers. The rollers squish the aluminum making it thinner and thinner until the desired thickness is achieved.
The thickness of the household aluminum foil varies depending on its use:
- Standard aluminum foil is between 0.39 to 0.70 mils. This type of aluminum foil is mostly used for wrapping individual food items and covering food containers;
- Heavy-duty aluminum foil is between 0.80 to 1 mils. Heavy-duty aluminum is used for covering and lining baking trays, sheets, and pans;
- Extra heavy-duty aluminum foil is between 1.1 and 1.6 mils. Extra heavy-duty aluminum is used for high-heat applications like covering grills and wrapping heavy foods.
Aluminum foil can be found in other thicknesses; however, the three categories of aluminum foil mentioned above are the ones that are most often used for cooking and food storing purposes.
What Are the Most Common Aluminum Products Used for Food Storage?
Aluminum foil is frequently used for food storage applications by wrapping food containers or individual food items.
Aluminum foil has a very high melting point of about 1,220ºF (or 660ºC), which is why it is also used for covering baking trays, sheets, and pans. If appropriately used, aluminum foil prevents the food from sticking to the trays and pans and makes them easy to clean.
Aluminum is also used for the making of aluminum foil pans and aluminum foil steam table pans, which are used for baking and cooking. Aluminum foil pans are inexpensive, easy to use, and very versatile.
And lastly – although not exactly considered food containers – I’d like to focus your attention on the fact that some other products can be made from aluminum too like water bottles, cans, and utensils.
All of these will have access in one way or another to the food or water you will be consuming, and their use should not be overlooked.
Overall these are the most common uses for aluminum in the kitchen.
You can clearly see that aluminum will be frequently used for storing, wrapping, or keeping different kinds of hot foods or even hot beverages.
So is this safe? To find out, continue reading below.
Should You Store Hot Food in Aluminum Foil?
Many people find aluminum foil very useful for packing and storing food.
In fact, it is so easy that many use it to pack and bring hot food to their workplace (even I have done it in the past).
However, this begs the question of how safe is aluminum for food storage. And especially when subjected to higher temperatures.
Aluminum foil is capable of retaining the heat and temperature very well. Hence why it is so frequently used for covering baking trays and pans; however, the aluminum foil should not be placed in direct contact with the food.
If the foil is in direct contact with the food, the thermal energy will be dispersed faster.
In order to prevent heat loss, you want to have some sort of insulation between the food and the aluminum foil. For example, air is one of the best insulators – which is why it is used for covering the pans and bowls.
But what about wrapping food directly in aluminum foil? Can you do anything in that case?
As a matter of fact, yes, you can. If you have, say, a chicken wrap, a steak, or a chapati and you want to wrap it directly in aluminum, it would be better if you wrap it first in a parchment paper and then in aluminum. But that’s not all.
Aluminum is not an inert material. It has been discovered that when aluminum foil is being used for hot applications – cooking, baking, even when wrapping hot food – it may leach off aluminum to the food.
It has been found that aluminum migration increases when the food is in direct contact with the aluminum. Certain types of food can also increase the level of aluminum migration significantly like acidic foods and the addition of spices. Unfortunately, the amount of aluminum migrating may sometimes be above the recommended safety guidelines.
Higher aluminum intake may potentially lead to a plethora of health problems and complications.
One article that aimed to explore how aluminum reacts to different meats and cooking temperatures found that, again, varying amounts of aluminum ware, in fact, leaching off into the food.
The higher the acidity of the food, the fat content, and the cooking temperatures, the higher the aluminum migration.
Researchers compared two types of aluminum foil. The first was the standard aluminum foil, and the other was aluminum foil, which had a baking paper on one of its sides. The latter proved to leach off less aluminum to the food.
You may not necessarily need to cook the food in aluminum foil for aluminum to be leached off, as this may happen even when storing hot food in the foil.
This is why a much safer alternative is to use porcelain or glassware for cooking and baking purposes.
Overall it is not recommended or considered safe to store hot food in aluminum foil. Especially if you are concerned about your daily aluminum intake.
If you absolutely must store hot food in aluminum foil, you should wait for the food to cool down to room temperatures. Do not reheat the food in the aluminum foil as this process can cause the aluminum to leach off into your food. If you want to reheat your food, simply remove the aluminum foil before reheating it.
Can You Store Cold Food in Aluminum Foil?
Storing cold food – and even freezing food – in aluminum foil is generally considered safe for short periods of time only.
It has been found that keeping food wrapped in aluminum foil in the fridge or at room temperatures is better. However, even then, aluminum may leach into your food depending on (1) the type of food you have wrapped in the aluminum foil and (2) how you have kept the food in the aluminum foil.
Aluminum is capable of providing excellent protection against moisture and odors when used as packaging material, and it can even protect your food from freezer burn as long as it is sealed airtightly.
Conversely, aluminum foil will most likely not provide an airtight seal. Thus it is not recommended to use it even for short term cold food storage applications either.
What Food You Should Not Store in Aluminum Foil?
Although aluminum has a great many uses, certain foods should not be placed in contact with aluminum.
The acid in acidic foods can interact with the aluminum. The acid can erode the aluminum, and small amounts of aluminum can be leached off into your food.
The same holds true for liquids, and it is one of the many reasons why aluminum water bottles are usually not recommended for frequent use, especially with orange and lemon juices.
Avoid storing acidic foods in aluminum foil – hot or cold – like foods that contain tomatoes, and tomato paste, lemon juice, cabbage, vinegar, etc.
Adding spices, salts, and condiments to food that is being cooked or stored in aluminum foil can increase the levels of aluminum migrations too.
Is Aluminum Dangerous?
Aluminum is one of the most abundantly found metals. In fact, it is the third most abundant element found on Earth
The only two more commonly found elements are oxygen and silicon. However, aluminum is never found in pure form; it is always combined with other elements.
In a way, aluminum is already part of your diet as it can be found in small traces in virtually every type of food, the air, the water, and the soil.
So, naturally, aluminum can be found in small quantities inside every person.
Exposure to small amounts of aluminum is not inherently dangerous, as the human body can deal with that. The problem comes when people are being exposed to high amounts of aluminum. Especially vulnerable are people that suffer from kidney disease who may have a harder time excreting the excess aluminum.
Another problem comes from the fact that in today’s world, people are being exposed to aluminum at increasingly higher rates than before.
Higher aluminum may cause different brain and bone problems.
For example, one study discovered that in locations where the water had higher concentrations of aluminum, cadmium, and lead, there was a higher incidence of people with brittle bones and hip fractures.
One article found that welders who had been exposed to aluminum for a prolonged amount of time had worsened memory and attention capabilities. The higher the aluminum exposure, the more severe the decrease in cognitive abilities was.
Aluminum exposure has also been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. However, the experts have not come to a consensus opinion because there have been mixed results from the different studies.
Aluminum has also been found, in one paper, to be capable of damaging the central nervous system at more than one level. It can affect the function of the neural cells and the immune system.
Safe Alternatives for Storing Hot Food
Let me start by mentioning that plastic is not safe for storing hot food either. Plastic has been found on more than one occasion to leach off harmful chemicals when exposed to high temperatures or hot food.
So plastic is off the list.
The best material for storing hot food will be glass. Glass does not react in any meaningful way with food – be it cold, hot, acidic. Glass is completely inert and safe for food storage application.
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Last update on 2022-05-21 at 04:00 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
However, you may be looking for something that you can wrap your hot food in – in this case; parchment paper may be a lot safer and better option. Butcher paper (or Kraft paper) can also be a good alternative to aluminum as long as they are FDA-approved for handling food.
With that being said, it is advisable to wait for your food to cool down a bit, if possible, before storing or wrapping it in anything.
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