“My mom didn’t know she was supposed to get rid of the plastic wrapped around the gefilte fish, and she boiled it in it for an hour,” read the text. “The plastic looks totally intact. Can we feed the gefilte fish to everyone or do we have to toss it?”
Food writers and editors get these sorts of texts and phone calls all the time. Here’s where we go to get our info, but you can cut out the middle (wo)man: It’s the good old USDA, the United States Department of Agriculture, which has a food safety hub. Monday to Friday, from 10am until 4pm, they even staff a hotline: 888-674-6854.
But if you’re a DIY person or your food query falls outside business hours, here are a few tips on negotiating the site. This page is typically a good starting point, and it has a handy search box in the upper right corner. But google is often going to be just as helpful—if not more so: Just type in your search words, like this: boiling plastic site:usda.gov.
That took me to a meat and poultry safety page, where—doing a search on the page for the words “heat” and “plastic”—I was able to ascertain that my friend’s plastic wrap likely wasn’t food-grade, and wasn’t “boil-in-bag” technology, and thus although the plastic looked intact, chemicals might have seeped in, and the gefilte fish had to go.