We have a standing joke in our family that helps us to laugh off what would otherwise be a very dangerous situation.
My mother is a saver. She saves rubber bands, paper, string, paper clips, plastic bags, etc. You get the picture. And any chance she gets, she makes sure to reuse these items in some way.
She is clearly on board the reduce, recycle, reuse bandwagon. And I, for one, am very proud of her.
Until she appeared at my house one day with a big garbage sack filled with styrofoam containers she has been saving from her hamburger and chicken purchases.
“Look what I brought you!” she exclaimed as she separated the styrofoam platters by color, yellow, pink, and blue.
I knew exactly what they were, but I didn’t know she’d been saving them.
“I brought them so that after our big family gathering today, everyone can take home leftovers.”
My face tried to smile, but my stomach lurched and I’m sure I turned a little green. You see, I studied microbiology in college. I know what goes on just beyond our ability to see with the naked eye. And while styrofoam is an excellent primary choice for packaging our raw meat to get it home from the supermarket, it cannot be sterilized.
I repeat, it cannot be sterilized.
That means that those piles of styrofoam containers now gracing my kitchen counter were teeming with invisible but potentially deadly pathogens that my mother wanted to send home with my brothers and sisters, their spouses, and their sweet children.
Just to be sure, I quickly got on my computer and fortunately the University of Illinois had recommended against the re-use of styrofoam meat packaging trays because they are filled with tiny bubbles that harbor those ugly little microbes.
I thanked my mother and put all the trays back in her garbage bag and then sterilized my counter in order to get our big family pot-luck going. I also quietly passed the word from one sibling to the next.
Soon I saw one of my nephews get up and quietly go out the front door. When he returned he had big bags of to-go containers he had just purchased at the store. His timing was perfect. We managed to put all leftovers that my family wanted to take home with them into the new containers that could be washed and sterilized.
After everyone was gone, I explained to my mother the problem with saving meat trays and using them for food storage later. I’m glad I didn’t embarrass her in front of all my siblings because she was very upset at the thought of poisoning her grandchildren. I’m sure she figured my siblings and I had lived this long, she doesn’t have to worry about us.
But please, if you know anyone who tries to be similarly environmentally conscientious pass the word on about styrofoam.