Bento containers are widely available and made from plastic, though they are also available in aluminum, glass, stainless steel and silicon.
You can also find bento lunch boxes made with thermal materials designed to keep food warm, such as bamboo, lacquered wood and melamine.
Due to the durability and easy maintenance of plastic, it is probably the most widely used material for making bento lunch boxes and their components.
This has prompted some end users to wonder whether the chemicals in the plastics could leach into the food.
What Is A Bento Lunch Box?
A bento box is a Japanese-style lunch box not too different from an American lunchbox. A traditional bento lunch box would be packed with rice or noodles, accompanied by a protein consisting of fish, eggs, or meat. Packed around those items would be a variety of raw or pickled vegetables and pieces of fruit.
The first documented use of bento has been traced back to Japan’s Kamakura period (1185 – 1333), when cooked rice would be carried to work in a small bag.
Centuries later, the stylish lacquered wood bento lunch boxes came into use. They were designed to hold several different bites for several different people to share leisurely outdoors.
Stacked boxes of multiple courses became common during long theater performances and two-part boxes with rice and side dish compartments also came into widespread use.
Those evolved into today’s bento lunch box. The bento lunch box holds all of the ingredients of a wholesome meal tucked into perfectly fitted leak-proof compartments.
Plastics Used In Bento Lunch Boxes
The food safety standards in Japan are similar to those in the United States. Japanese manufacturers of bento lunch box food compartments use three types of plastic: 1) polyethylene terephthalate (PET), 2) polypropylene (PP), or 3) a compound of PET and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) called PET-A.
For the bento lunch box outer body and outer lid, the makers will use PP or PET-A. For the flexible inner lids and the main lids on the smaller boxes, the makers will use PET.
Some of the cheaper bento lunch boxes made in China are made of PP. Although PP is reported to be safe, it is not easily recyclable. Better quality plastic bento lunch boxes that are most often manufactured in Japan use mostly PET or PET-A.
Food Safety Questions Regarding Plastics In Bento Lunch Boxes
In general, the plastics used in good quality bento lunch boxes are safe. Some of the common questions about their safety focus on the following considerations.
Product Labeling And Warnings
The consumer should heed the maker’s warnings pertaining to the particular bento lunch box and each of its components pertaining to safe use.
The product warning labels will state that it is not safe for use in the microwave or to use to reheat food, or it is not dishwasher safe.
Be aware that many rigid plastic bento lunch box accessories are made of ABS and sometimes another plastic called polystyrene. These accessories are not microwave safe.
Other components that are made of silicone, such as reusable inner cups, are microwave- and dishwasher-safe.
Bento Lunch Box Parts And Components Made From PET And PET-A
PET and PET-A are the plastic materials often used to make bento lunch boxes and their components.
Due to the porous nature of PET, the thin PET often used to make water bottles should not be re-used. On the other hand, PET-A is a recyclable and food-safe plastic.
BPA is the substance that has raised the most objections regarding plastic food containers. Bisphenol-A, or BPA, exists in a plastic called polycarbonate, which is used for some water bottles and as liners in metal cans.
Polycarbonates are not used by any of the major Japanese bento lunch box manufacturers in their plastic bento lunch boxes, water bottles, or any other container that touches food.
In fact, manufacturers of food cans and containers in Japan phased out the use of BPA well before the issue came to the forefront in the United States.
Re-using Takeout Or Convenience Store Bento Lunch Box Containers
Avoid re-using plastic containers that are not made for re-use. There is just no easy way to be sure that the plastics used in takeout boxes are safe for multiple use.
Popular Alternatives To Plastic
A popular alternative to a plastic bento lunch box is one made of stainless steel. Stainless steel bento lunch boxes are very durable.
If you want a leak resistant steel box, look for one with a silicone sealing element around the inner rim of the lid. A well-made stainless steel bento lunch box is sleek and will withstand the most rugged use.
Wood is another alternative to plastic. Wood is the traditional bento lunch box material. A very traditional type of wooden box is the Magewappa, made of uncoated bent Japanese cedar.
Some were untreated while others were coated with a lacquer finish.
The drawback to wood bento lunch boxes is they require special care. They must be hand washed and immediately dried with a soft cloth.
If you opt for a wood bento lunch box, do not go cheap. The cheap wood boxes will have a rough finish and poor workmanship, and are less likely to withstand the rigors of an arduous commute or schoolyard roughhousing.
Contact The Bento Lunch Box Specialists At Kangovou
The Kangovou bento lunch boxes are high quality and free from BPAs, lead, PVC and melamine phthalate.
Learn more about the beautiful assortment of ethically manufactured, dishwasher safe bento lunch boxes that are available from Kangovou.