#AskTamara: How can I tell if my vintage Tupperware plastic cups are toxic? By Color? By Shape? By Age?

New post! First in a series of four that I will be doing to try to draw some distinctions between the Tupperware pieces WITH toxicants (Lead, Mercury, Cadmium and Arsenic) and those without. If you have any information or links to help inform this conversation (for example information about years made for certain model numbers?) that would be very helpful and I will update the posts accordingly! Thank you!

#AskTamara

Question:
How can I tell if my vintage Tupperware plastic cups are toxic? By Color? By Shape? By Age?

Answer:
My best and first answer is that, from a lay person’s perspective (specifically someone who is not highly-experienced in consumer goods testing) or from the perspective of someone who does not have direct access to expensive scientific testing equipment (like most of my readers), or from the perspective of someone who is not an expert in the nuances of all of the different models, styles and colors of vintage Tupperware (I haven’t yet found that expert!), it is nearly impossible to tell the difference between the more toxic Tupperware pieces (the vintage ones that have been testing positive for Lead, Cadmium, Arsenic and Mercury) and some of the newer ones (that had BPA until 2010 and – by the company’s statement – have been BPA-free since 2010.)

Also, by way of a response to some of the questions on my blog over the past week, it is important to note that the Lead found in some of these products is not detectable with a home-test-kit (like the reactive agent LeadCheck® swab kits.) Those home kits were primarily designed to work on painted coatings and they were never intended to react to solid plastic substrates, so that is also not a tool that can be used by the average consumer to determine if these have toxicants. You can read more about that here.

For the sake of this discussion, I present to you the three cups shown in the featured picture here on this page. Here are the considerations using these three cups as examples (click any of the images to see them full size):

  1. Color Orange in General: You cannot simply surmise that the orange cups might have heavy metals (the lighter orange cup on the far right of the three tested negative for Lead, Cadmium, Arsenic and Mercury). The model numbers on the bottom of that cup are: 116-7. There is also an “E” on the bottom of the cup. I think, based on the style and differences in markings on the bottom, that this is possibly a newer shape and style of cup than the two other (shorter) cups pictured.
  2. Cup Shape and Size: You cannot simply surmise that the shorter cups (which are perhaps the older style?) have (or do not have) toxicants. The yellow cup on the far left seems – by shape, design, weight and texture – to be of the exact same era as the orange one in the center, yet it is negative for the four primary toxicants I test for (specifically negative for Lead, Cadmium, Mercury and Arsenic.) The model numbers on the bottom of the short yellow cup appear to be 1320-10 (or perhaps just “320-10”) along with a capital letter “F” & the model numbers on the bottom of the short orange cup appear to be 1320-7 (or possibly just 320-7) and there does not appear to be a letter stamped on the bottom of that cup. 
  3. Specific Color Orange: Perhaps if you are a vintage Tupperware expert, you might assert, for the sake of argument (and I am just guessing at this), that the bright orange of the center cup was specifically only used during the early 1970s, and therefore that identifies that cup as having been made during a specific era (and perhaps you could say the same about the other colors being identifiable as being made during a certain decade…) which might therefore explain why it is that it’s the one cup (of the three shown here) that is positive for toxicants (both Cadmium and Mercury! – you can read the specific test results for that cup HERE.) However, shortly I will be publishing two follow up posts to this that argues that even that distinction seems to be uncertain. [I will link that post here as soon as I have it up.]

Of course, if any one of my readers can give me more verified information about colors, styles, and model numbers in relation to manufacturing periods (any information that might help pinpoint which production years and which styles could be more likely to have heavy metals) that might be helpful…but it seems that many of the styles (specific shapes) were re-introduced across different decades, and the same appears to be true about the colors (based on the research and testing I have done so far.)

So my conclusion on this one is the simplest answer (and likely the least-satisfying answer to the reader): casual user of Tupperware cannot readily know which style or color might have toxicants based on the style, color or model number of that piece. I think for this reason, if you insist on using plastic Tupperware products (vs. safer modern non-plastic alternatives), sticking with post-2010 Tupperware products (because then you also know they are going to be BPA-free) is the best piece of advice for avoiding heavy metals in “Vintage” Tupperware.

Results from a quick google search for “what is the definition of vintage.”

To note: the term “vintage” is defined as at least 20 years old, which would mean pre-1999 at this point, and I have tested plastics (from several different companies) made as recently as the early-1990s that have also been positive for high levels of Lead, so without further information, I would assert that it is possible (and even likely) that Tupperware products through as late as the early-1990s might also be positive for Lead.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

As always, thank you for reading and for sharing my posts.

Tamara Rubin
#LeadSafeMama

19 Responses to #AskTamara: How can I tell if my vintage Tupperware plastic cups are toxic? By Color? By Shape? By Age?

  1. Tosha Smith March 17, 2019 at 8:18 am #

    I have several Tupperware cups, shorter than these & with a flared lip, that were given to me by my husband’s grandfather for our young daughter to use & she’s been using them for the past 3-4 yrs. They had sippy cup lids, but I threw those away because we were starting to phase those out in our house. I’m uncertain how old these cups are. I have a red, a blue & a yellow that all say 109-28 on the bottom. A green that says 109-31 & another yellow that says 109-43. All 5 cups have the letter G. I always thought these were from the same set, but now that I compare the 2 yellows, one is slightly darker than the other. Wondering if we should continue to use them? I’d be willing to donate a couple if you would be willing to test them!

    • Tamara March 17, 2019 at 9:18 am #

      Hi Tosha!

      Thank you for commenting!

      Oh yes please I would love to test them and post the results here. Thank you so much. Which ever colors you would be willing to send would be good. I have not yet tested a red or a blue, although the yellows seem to be more likely to have toxicants than some of the other colors.

      My shipping address is:

      Tamara Rubin
      Lead Safe Mama
      7933 SE 15th Avenue
      Portland, OR 97202

      Thank you again!

      – Tamara

      • Tosha March 19, 2019 at 1:23 pm #

        Ok will do in the next week or two if not sooner. PS, my uncle lives in Portland not far from you! He’s about 6 blocks north of I-84. If you ever need a licensed massage therapist, look up LeRoy Meikle LMT! Thanks!

        • Tamara March 19, 2019 at 3:32 pm #

          Thank you so much Tosha!
          – Tamara

      • Nancy Sanetznik March 19, 2019 at 4:36 pm #

        I have a microwave steamer dish. Yellow top and bottom. It is 50 years old. Also the cups mentioned and clear flour tub. Several keeper bowls Orange. I use them all the time. All at least 50 years old. Worried about them now.

      • Kay March 20, 2019 at 3:01 pm #

        What about lettuce and celery crispers from late 70s/80s? Have clear lids with green bottoms that are kind of a bright clearish spring green, not like the dull avocado color. Safe to use, just bought 2 new ones at an antique show cuz they work great

  2. Donna March 18, 2019 at 10:09 am #

    Hi Tamara, Thanks for all this info about Tupperware! My FIL worked for Tupperware for most of his life as a mold maker. He would have been a wealth of information, but sadly he passed away many years ago. Unfortunately, most of the Tupperware we have is vintage passed on to us by my husband’s parents when we got married over 25 years ago. We used it for many years and then started phasing out most of our plastic and using glass instead for food storage. We do still have a few pieces that we still use, including the yellow measuring cups. I will be getting rid of all of our Tupperware. I can take a photo of what I have if you’re interested in testing anything. Just let me know. I’m happy to help.

    • Tamara March 18, 2019 at 10:11 am #

      Oh Donna! Thank you!

      I would love some more examples to test and post on my blog. People really want to know if their exact item is positive (and for which toxicants), so that would be helpful for a LOT of people. Please send me a picture to TamaraRubin@mac.com and I will let you know which items I have not yet tested.

      Thank you again, and thank you for commenting.

      Tamara

      • Donna March 19, 2019 at 3:47 pm #

        Sounds good! I will send a photo very soon!
        Donna

  3. Stu Farnsworth March 19, 2019 at 6:06 am #

    How about the Tupperware canisters? We bought some vintage at a garage sale in Mn before we moved to Japan. They are sort of an off yellow. We have been using then to store flour and rice. Have you done testing on these types of canisters?

    • Tamara March 19, 2019 at 3:36 pm #

      Hi Stu,

      Thank you for commenting. I haven’t yet tested any of the canisters – but I have tested several yellow items and will be adding more to the list soon. Here’s a link to the “Yellow Tupperware” category on my blog: https://tamararubin.com/category/yellow-vintage-tupperware/

      Tamara

  4. Jerry March 19, 2019 at 11:30 am #

    I have read with interest some of the testing you have done. Have you been able to determine if the various metals you are testing for can leach out of the plastic, or are they bonded in it to a point that they are stable within the plastic? I would be interested in knowing what the leach rate is (if any) and if it is worsened by increases/decreases in temperature.

    • Tamara March 19, 2019 at 3:22 pm #

      Hi Jerry,

      I would be interested in knowing that too. In the absence of leach testing I think refraining from using these items is the safest bet. I don’t do leach testing myself (yet) it is very expensive and I am not yet covering the costs of my advocacy work.

      With other leach testing studies that I am familiar with hot liquids and acidic liquids are generally more likely to leach toxicants from dishware (with ceramic and crystal substrates for example) and so I would definitely avoid using vintage Tupperware with any heated food or beverages.

      Tamara

  5. Gail Simmons March 19, 2019 at 3:25 pm #

    Tamara,
    Cleaning out grandma’s house and found an old Tupperware catalog from 1982. So many of the items used to be in my house and now are mostly replaced with glass and safer plastics. If it would be helpful I can take photos of the pages to email to you. It could help you possibly determine the year the pieces were made. It also states on a page that all products purchased after Sept. 3, 1979 are dishwasher safe. Also I read a disclaimer that Tupperware is not guaranteed for use in microwave oven as warping and melting could result. Please let me know if you want these pages emailed to you.
    Thanks for all your hard work and not letting the mean people’s comments discourage you!!
    Gail Simmons

    • Tamara March 19, 2019 at 3:54 pm #

      Thank you so much, Gail!

      I emailed you. I look forward to seeing those pages… I think that will be very helpful information to many of my readers.

      Tamara

  6. Jan March 19, 2019 at 3:47 pm #

    Is sold Tupperware way back in the early 80s. I don’t remember a ton about it because I only did it for a little while, but I do remember that the big letter E or F that you’re seeing on the bottom of the cups are only for the size of the “seal” / lid that will fit that cup. I have lots of those style cups that you’re showing in four different colors (yellow, burnt orange, burgundy, and a darker burnt orange) in 4 different sizes. I also have measuring cups and spoons in the burnt orange. I also have many other pieces… am I supposed to get rid of all of them? Are they all bad? What about the clear pieces from the same era? Is it only the colors?

    • Tamara March 19, 2019 at 4:01 pm #

      Hi Jan,

      I will have a few more posts up discussing that shortly, I will link them here when they are up. Thank you for the additional information to help me (and my readers) identify which ones might have toxicants.

      Tamara

  7. Barbara Goodwin March 19, 2019 at 4:26 pm #

    I have an orange gal. Pitcher and a yellow 2 gal. Should I just pitch them? They are from 1980s

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