If you are wanting to store dry food in plastic containers, it is important to know which plastics are safe to store food and how to properly store the food.
There are several different types of plastic containers and although it can be overwhelming, by knowing the proper resin identification code you will know which plastic containers are the best for storing dry food.
To store dry food in plastic containers you must check the resin identification code, be sure it is a safe plastic to store food in, sanitize the container if you are reusing, only store dry foods that can last in plastic containers, and store the food in proper conditions.
By having the knowledge about the proper plastic containers to use and how to store dry food properly, it will ensure that you are successful when storing dry food in plastic containers.
There are many different plastic container options available, but the information in the guide below has been researched and tested in labs over the span of many years. It has proven successful in properly storing dry food short and long term in plastic containers.
Storing Dry Food in Plastic Containers
What Plastic Containers to Use?
There are specific plastics that are deemed safe to be used to store food. Some people will only use glass, but if you have the proper knowledge then you can be sure to use food safe plastic containers. On the bottom of all plastic containers there will be a triangle with a number. This is the resin identification code. There are certain resin identification codes that are safe for food storage and have been approved by the FDA.
#1 Polyethylene Terephthalate
A plastic container with a #1 on the bottom is Polyethylene terephthalate or also known as PET or PETE. This is commonly used in water, soda, and juice bottles as well as peanut butter containers. The plastic on this type of container is a light clear plastic that is strong and can be used to store food long-term.
These plastic containers can be reused if they are washed with hot soapy water and thoroughly dried. If they become cloudy or cracked, then they need to be discarded. They are usually taken at recycling centers so they can be recycled fairly easily.
It is important to only use this type of plastic container if it has been previously used for food storage. This type of container has good oxygen barrier qualities and when used with oxygen absorbers, it is a great option to bulk store dried food. It is best to avoid storing food in this plastic when it is a high heat environment.
Many people will reuse soda and juice containers to store dry food. These will work great if they have a screw top lid. You do not want to use anything that has a snap on lid as this will not be air-tight. You will also not want to use a PETE container if it has been used for something such as mayonnaise as it will be almost near impossible to get all of the oil out.
#2 High-Density Polyethylene
Plastic containers that have a #2 on the bottom are high-density polyethylene or HDPE. This type of plastic is commonly used for milk jugs, food storage containers, and occasionally certain hair products.
HDPE is a very easily recyclable plastic and is extremely durable. It tends to be impact and weather resistant. This type of plastic can be found in food storage buckets and is great to store food long-term.
Although milk jugs can be reused to store food, it is not recommended as they usually cannot be cleaned and sanitized properly.
#4 Low-Density Polyethylene
Any plastic with a #4 on the bottom is low-density polyethylene or LDPE. It is a commonly used plastic in dry cleaning bags, squeezable bottles, sandwich bags, and plastic cling wrap.
It is considered less toxic than other plastics. Products that have LDPE plastic in them are reusable, but they are not always recyclable. If you are wanting to recycle a product that has a #4 on the bottom, it is a good idea to contact your local recycling center to see if they will take the product.
Since LDPE plastics are used in different types of containers than what would typically be used for food storage, these might not be the easiest to sanitize and use to store food.
Plastic containers with a #5 are polypropylene or PP. You can find #5 plastic in a large number of plastic containers including for yogurt, margarine, deli meat, and potato chip bags.
This type of plastic is tough and lightweight, but can also be extremely flexible. Plastic #5 can endure high temperatures so it is okay to be in a climate with more heat as it will not leak chemicals into the foods that are stored in it.
It serves as a great barrier for moisture, grease, and chemicals and is FDA approved for food contact.
Plastics Containers to Avoid
The resin identification codes below have not been approved by the FDA to store food. This is due to potentially harmful chemicals that can be contained in these plastics and possibly leak into the food that is being stored in them.
#3 Polyvinyl Chloride
Plastics that have a #3 on the bottom are polyvinyl chloride or PVC. This is used in some miscellaneous storage containers. When PVC is manufactured it releases dioxins, which have been classified as human carcinogens. PVC can also contain phthalates, which have the potential to cause health concerns to humans.
Plastic with a #6 is polystyrene or PS. This is commonly used in plastic cups, take-out containers, and egg cartons. When polystyrene is manufactured, toxic chemicals are released, which does not make this plastic approved for food storage.
Plastic #7 or polycarbonate, also known as PC, has been used in plastic cups and some baby bottles. It is also known for Bisphenol A or BPA in it as well. BPA is known to have potential health concerns and should be avoided when storing food.
Ideal Climate to Store Dry Food in Plastic
As a lot of plastic is not made to endure warm temperatures, dry food that is stored in plastic should be kept at temperatures as mild as possible. Ideally, anything 60 degrees fahrenheit and below would be best. When certain plastics are exposed to higher temperatures, it can cause the plastic to possibly melt or any chemicals to be leaked into the food that is stored in it. Food stored in plastic can easily withstand temperatures 40 degrees fahrenheit and below without affecting the dry food being stored inside of it.
You do not want your food that you are storing to be exposed to moisture at all. Any moisture that gets into the storage containers can potentially cause the food to spoil. You want to be sure that the containers that you are storing the food in are 100% dry when you seal the food inside. Moisture will breed bacteria and mold, which could ruin the food that you are trying to store. If you are reusing a container and you are not sure if it is completely void of moisture, it is best to purchase a new plastic container.
It is a great idea to use oxygen absorber packets when storing food. Oxygen can oxidize the compounds in food and cause them to go bad much quicker than an oxygen-free environment. An oxygen absorber packet will ultimately leave about 99% nitrogen in the container, which will allow it to be stored longer and remain fresh. By eliminating all of the oxygen out of the container, you will also eliminate the likelihood of pests and insects trying to get into the food as they will not be able to survive in these conditions.
How Long Can You Store Dry Food in Plastic
For foods stored in plastic, they can be stored for anywhere from a few months up to a few years. If the food is low in moisture content, it is stored in proper conditions, and you are using an oxygen absorber, then there is no reason why the dry food would not stay fresh in a plastic container for a few years and potentially longer.
What Foods Can Be Stored in Plastic
There are certain dry foods that will do well being stored in plastic, but others will still have too high of moisture content in them to be stored in a plastic container.
Foods that do well being stored in plastic containers include pasta, rolled oats, steel-cut oats, corn, corn starch, dried beans, spelt, sugar, white rice, potato starch, and wheat.
There are other foods that would be considered dry foods, but still have too high of moisture content. These would include bean flour, brown rice, brown sugar, dried meat, granola, nuts, pancake or baking mixes, and whole grain flours. These foods can still be stored long-term, but they will not do well in plastic storage containers.
About THE AUTHOR
I have over a decade of experience in food and beverage management, including a ServSafe food safety qualification. As part of this qualification, I have been professionally trained in safe food storage.Read More About Mark Walker