Aluminium foil & food storage safety

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Aluminium foil & food storage safety
In most cases foil poses no food safety risk (John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Although aluminium foil is made up of naturally occurring materials, some people are concerned that the interaction between metals and foods could compromise safety. In practice, any negative effects are likely to be cosmetic only. With the exception of overuse in a microwave, aluminium foil shouldn't pose a significant food safety risk.

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Salts and acids

If foil comes into direct contact with food that is very salty or acidic it can cause a chemical reaction. This reaction produces an aluminium salt that creates the misleading visual impression that the foil has been "eaten away." If this aluminium salt gets into the food it can create black spots that spoil the visual appearance. However, these spots do not make the food unsafe to eat.

Alumnium content

A study by the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates explored the effects of wrapping various meats in foil and then cooking the food at different temperatures. It found that this increased the amount of aluminium in the cooked foods above "natural" levels, an effect that was strongest with acidic foods and foods cooked at high temperatures. The study also noted other research suggesting a link between aluminium levels in humans and conditions such as Alzheimer's. However, the study didn't show clear evidence that using foil significantly increased aluminium levels in the person eating the food or that it significantly increased the chances of suffering from the medical conditions.

Microwaves

As a general rule, manufacturers recommend avoiding putting metals into microwave ovens because the way the microwaves interact with electrons in the metal can cause sparks or overheating. The US Department of Agriculture notes that in some cases using aluminium foil can be safe, but you should check your manufacturer's instructions. Covering food entirely with foil is both dangerous and likely to mean your food doesn't cook. However, using small amounts of foil can be safe. The best use is in covering specific parts of food to avoid overcooking, for example wings or drumsticks when cooking chicken.

Which way round

One side of aluminuim foil is shinier simply because at the last stage of production two sheets are rolled flat together as a single sheet would be at risk of tearing. The outside surface of these two sheets therefore becomes shinier simply because this process effectively polishes it an additional time. In theory the shinier side reflects heat better, meaning it does a better job of keeping food warm if it is on the inside when wrapped. In practice the difference is so minimal that it makes no significant difference to the performance or safety of the foil in storage or a conventional or microwave oven.

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