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I took an orange to work inside a polypropylene food storage box, and then (ahem...) forget about it for a couple of months. Upon rediscovering it, I threw out the mouldy remnants of the orange and washed the box thoroughly.

However, the plastic seems to be permanently tainted: if I put the lid on the box for a few hours, there is a clear smell of over-ripe citrus fruit upon opening. This smell/taste will even pass into food that is stored in the box.

I have washed the box many times, including putting it through a dishwasher, but the problem persists. Is there anything I can do to remove the orange 'flavour' from this box, or does it need to be discarded?

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I've found the lid is often the holdout when it comes to container smells, as there's narrow spaces and sometimes a rubber or silicone seal. Regular washing doesn't get into the rim that grips the main part of the container, and gunk can get behind the seal. If there is a seal you need to pull it out, a narrow skewer works well for this, or a thin paper clip bent into a 90 degree shape. Clean the seal thoroughly and get into the rim with a brush, an old toothbrush is great for this.

If you still have smells vinegar and baking soda are your friends. Water and soap are good at breaking up grease and killing organisms as soap breaks down fats, but soap isn't that good at neutralizing the compounds that those organisms create. You need something that will interact chemically with those compounds, like an acid or a base, or both.

You could start by cleaning with vinegar, the trouble is you may replace one strong odor with another. Using baking soda and vinegar together is a good combination because it cleans well and they neutralize each other in the end.

I would create a paste of baking soda and water, then spread it around the container, then pour in a tablespoon or two of vinegar and slosh it around until it gets in all the nooks and crannies. Then rinse with water.

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  • That's an answer @ChrisH, why not put it as one?
    – GdD
    Jun 28, 2023 at 13:56
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I agree that the problem is likely to be the seal. These are normally removable.

Two approaches that can help with problematic seals are:

  • Wipe it over with oil, leave a few hours to soak, then put through the dishwasher. I think this is because some (unpleasant) flavour compounds are oil-soluble but soap doesn't take care of them

  • Scrub it with bleach (I use a bleach-based kitchen cleaner spray that I have anyway), then place the seal loosely in its container and add water; soak in the diluted bleach before rinsing and washing thoroughly. In case the problem is the container/lid, put the lid on and shake with the dilute bleach in it - over the sink as it no longer has a seal.

Finally dry the seal thoroughly before refitting it. Even airing it in a warm place for a little while might be a good idea.

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