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"Sittin' here eatin' my heart out waitin'"
The factory site where I am based in the UK has a pretty good canteen but it can get quite expensive and sometimes I want to have a bit more control over what I'm going to have for lunch rather than taking my chances that there's something good on the menu. During the week I live alone and my ability to cook the right amount of food just for myself is pretty poor - as a result I often have leftovers to take to work for my lunch the following day. For a long time I used those dodgy little plastic 'take away' containers with the lids that never seem to fit quite right and often leaked on the way to work. To keep the food cool and safe, I also had to fight for space in our departmental fridge which is only slightly bigger than a hotel mini-bar.
A lot of my colleagues bring food and heat it through in the microwave in the canteen but this is a ropey old machine that takes forever to heat even the simplest of foods. At peak times you can find yourself with several people ahead of you in the queue for the microwave and before you know it, half your lunch break has gone hovering by the machine waiting for your turn and the colleagues you went in with have polished off their dinner and are heading back to their desks. I was looking for something that would do away with the need to refrigerate my lunch and avoid the microwave traffic jam. I found it in the Thermos Everyday 501 Stainless Steel Food Flask.
I ordered two of these flasks - one for myself, one for my husband - on Amazon.co.uk back in December last year. I paid just £10 for the pair including postage which was quite a bargain as the standard price today on the site is £9.99 for just the one.
I've never been a fan of vacuum flasks for drinks or for food so I took a bit of a risk buying these. I find hot drinks always pick up a 'taint' in a vacuum flask and food can be difficult to get in or out of a flask and can be difficult to clean. I wasn't sure that this product would work for me but I was more than willing to give it a go especially at such a cheap price.
The flasks are very attractive with their brushed steel bodies and contrasting black end pieces. I don't mind being seen carrying this into the office and I'm happy for it to sit on my desk because it looks classy and expensive. It certainly doesn't look like I stole it from a kid's lunchbox. The flask is made of vacuum insulated stainless steel - which basically means two layers of steel with a vacuum in between. And as we all know from school science lessons, heat can't travel through a vacuum.
The capacity is 500 ml which is about a pint in 'old money'. It's a chunky item with a wide mouth which makes it really easy to get food into it, to get food out of it, and best of all, to get the flask clean again after you've used it. My hand and a washing up sponge will fit inside with no problems at all. It's described as 'virtually unbreakable' which sounds like a challenge but I love it too much to test that claim. It's also said to be hygienic and easy to clean - two things which clearly go hand in hand. And the manufacturers are so sure of their product that they guarantee it for 5 years which is a pretty good deal for such an inexpensive item.
The claims made by Thermos are that it keeps hot food hot for up to 6 hours and cold food cold for up to 10 hours. I've not tried it with cold food yet but I'm happy with its performance on hot food. Each morning when I want to use my flask, I boil the kettle for my morning coffee and fill up the empty flask with boiling water. I let this stand for 5 to 10 minutes to let the flask know that today we're doing 'HOT'. This step is a little bit like warming the plates for dinner - it helps to keep the food hotter for longer. Whilst the flask is standing filled with hot water, I reheat the food, either in a saucepan if it's soup or something runny or in the microwave if it's something more substantial. When the food is piping hot I pour the water out of the flask and fill it with the hot food using a large spoon. I try to make sure that the flask is filled to the top since the food will stay hotter for longer if there's no gap at the top of the flask. I then screw the lid on and stick the flask in my bag to take to work. I'm a big handbag person so it goes in my bag, often on its side, and so far has never leaked any of its contents.
Today at lunch time I pulled out my flask, tapped all the food onto my plate and looked up to see several people staring at me, almost as wide-mouthed as my flask. One commented that the food looked to be so hot that it was steaming and asked how long it had been in the flask. I'd filled it at about 7.30 that morning so it had been standing for 5 hours and was still easily hot enough to not be risky from a food safety point of view. 5 to 6 hours is about standard for how long my food sits in the flask between filling and eating and it's always hot when it comes out. I did forget to pre-heat with boiling water once and it was noticeably a bit cooler but not dangerously so. I am now the envy of the colleagues who are sitting tapping their fingers and waiting for the microwave to become free.
I use my flask several times a week. My husband has - to my knowledge - never used his at all. The difference is that he has better access to a microwave than me and that he works very long shifts which means he often needs to take food for both lunch and dinner. I'm surprised he hasn't taken to the flask as actively as I have and if it doesn't get used soon, I will be stealing it from him. I'm already thinking 'soup in one, ice cream in the other' - now that would really impress the canteen users if I could pull that off!
I bought this from Amazon because I was getting tired of cold sandwiches in the depth of winter in the cold office canteen. I paid 9.99 pounds on amazon, so going by the fact that I have used it for about 2 winters, and saved a fortune on buying lunch, it is good value for money.
Thermos is a reliable brand going to eons ago going by the plastic Thermos vacuum flask I found in my parents' house. The old plastic version tend to have a disadvantage of trapping the food smell so that if you placed strong smelling food in the flask the day before, even after repeated washing, the smell is not likely to go away.
So what's with the new version made of stainless steel? The food smell is not that easily trapped and I feel more secured putting hot soup and hot food into the flask, immediately after cooking because plastic always seem like it would melt if I do that as compared to steel.
However, as per the instructions suggested, hot water should be placed in the flask about 5 minutes before and then poured out before putting in the food. It does keep the food hot for up to 5 hours then. Filling the jar to the recommended level also keeps the food hot. If you fill it to less than the level, it does come out somewhat less hot than what you would expect.
The only thing I was dissatisfied with is the condensation that seem to form around the jar, thus, causing my bag to become damp if I fail to wrap it in a towel or a plastic bag before putting it in.
For the sake of hot lunches, and for the price, this jar is good value for money. If you have large hands though, you might have a problem washing the jar since the opening is somewhat small. The food stains do come off easily though. And you do have to take care while putting the food in because impatience will cause most of the food to end up outside the jar.
Thermos stainless steel vacuum insulated food jar. 0.5L capacity.