One issue that came to light recently is the use of non-food-grade buckets for batching cocktails. Five-gallon buckets with lids are light, stackable, portable, and reusable, and have become an industry standard for use at big cocktail conferences and events.
However, some buckets are designated as safe for food handling, and others are not. Probably the most commonly misused bucket is the Home Depot "Homer" bucket in its signature bright orange color. These are not rated safe for handling food.
How Dangerous Are They Really?
How much damage can using this bucket cause? I can't say with any certainty, but alcohol is an excellent solvent that can leach chemicals out of plastic- and this plastic is dyed orange, while food-safe buckets always seem to be colorless.
Some bartenders have commented that it's the same type of plastic as buckets rated food-grade, so what gives? Avery Glasser of Bittermens Bitters makes a great point when he says, "Regarding HDPE#2, the resin is food safe, but the dye, the lubricants and the chemical cleaners they use on the line could be mutagenic, carcinogenic or cause renal issues. Some flush out with urine, some stick to your internal fat. That's why the resin isn't the indicator for food contact safety, it's the international food safe symbol."
He continues, "Think of it like a piece of oak. Inherently, it's safe to use as a cutting board, but the varnish or stain they use could be hazardous. "
An Easy Solution
On the plus side, when these buckets are used for cocktails they're not typically used for full-strength or high-proof spirits alone, and get watered down with other cocktail ingredients and kept cool with ice. This will slow down any chemical extraction. Also at events, the booze doesn't sit around too long in the buckets before use, leaching out chemicals over a long period of time.
But it's a learning curve. Going forward, let's do our best to eliminate non-food-grade plastics at cocktail events.
The good news is that the same Home Depot that sells the orange buckets we're avoiding also sells five-gallon food-safe buckets! (Perhaps not in the store, but if you order online they'll deliver it to your local store.)
This cocktail cloud has a silver lining.