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Came home from trip to a broken fridge and spoiled food in both glass and plastic containers. All was a lukewarm mess. Can I clean the containers and reuse them, or should I throw them out?

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    Plastic containers are usually inexpensive and fairly porous so I would personally throw them out without giving a second thought. The glass containers are certainly washable and re-usable but their lids may or may not be salvageable. – MonkeyZeus Oct 29 '20 at 13:39
  • I have reused plastic buckets with mold in them for brewing after cleaning and sanitizing them (StarSan - phosphoric acid). – Chloe Oct 29 '20 at 19:45
  • No they must be incinerate – Alchimista Oct 30 '20 at 10:09
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If you can stomach opening the containers and the associated smell, most plastic and glass containers can be re-used with appropriate washing/sterilization.

I would discard the contents, rinse out the debris and scrub out any residue, including removing seals if possible. I would then soak in a 0.25% available chlorine solution (most household bleach is approx 4% available chlorine, dilute appropriately) for 30 min, then rinse the bleach off, wash in warm soapy water and dry. Bleach is very effective against bacterial and fungal contaminants. However, this approach can damage some components of containers, such as rubber seals, so treat with caution. Silicone seals/lids should be fine.

Plastic and glass containers can take up smells from the contents, as can the seals, so it would be worthwhile to give them the sniff test afterwards and see if you can smell any unpleasant smells that might be passed onto food subsequently stored in them.

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    Glass won't take any smell @bob1. – GdD Oct 29 '20 at 8:38
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    @GdD kimchi begs to differ. I've personally washed the same glass jar several times that had contained kimchi and retained a faint but definite smell after the repeat washing, admittedly some of that smell may have been retained by the lid seal, but even after swapping lids the smell remained. – bob1 Oct 29 '20 at 9:11
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    Kimchi does have strong opinions, doesn't it? The glass itself won't absorb odors, but microscopic imperfections in the glass surface can retain traces. Simply washing won't remove the smell, but soaking in a bleach solution probably will. If all else fails, baking the glassware in an oven at 400 for a few hours should take care of it. – barbecue Oct 29 '20 at 18:31
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    When using bleach for any purpose, be very careful that it does not get mixed with any other cleaning product. Bleach and ammonia will form toxic chloramine gas if mixed, and many household cleaning products include ammonia. In general, dilute bleach with water and nothing else. – Kevin Oct 29 '20 at 20:05
  • Imagining the smell from opening those containers is making me queasy. – Z4-tier Oct 29 '20 at 21:52
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That's a unpleasant experience to come back to! You can re-use your containers, the hard part is going to be opening them and getting the spoiled food out. I'd suggest doing this outside if you have the space, preferably standing upwind of your garbage bag. A rubber spatula is a good tool for this.

If you have dishwasher safe glass containers they can go into the dishwasher, just rinse them first and put them on the most thorough cycle you have.

Once you have the plastic and non-dishwasher safe containers scraped out wash them very thoroughly in hot soapy water, changing it regularly. Lids can sometimes have a rubbery gasket in them, this should be pulled out if possible so you get at any food behind the gasket and clean the gasket thoroughly. If it won't come out that's fine, don't force it, use an old toothbrush to get in there and get any gunk out (this is a good idea whether there's spoiled food in it or not every once and awhile).

Glass containers won't take on any smells, if you have a smell from a glass container it's because it hasn't been cleaned thoroughly. However, plastic can take on smells from food, even when completely clean. I've tried wiping containers with both a distilled vinegar and a baking soda paste, mostly successfully. Just leaving the containers out and open for a few days has worked as well.

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  • I do not recommend relying solely on a dishwasher for sanitization purposes unless the dishwasher has a "sanitize" setting. Note that ansi-compliant sanitize settings use higher temperatures (typically at least 150°F), so they should not be used for "top rack only" dishes like plastic. – Brian Nov 6 '20 at 21:52

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