This article may contain affiliate links where we earn a commission from qualifying purchases.
- PET (#1), HDPE (#2), LDPE (#4), and PP (#5) are safe plastics for food storage.
- PVC (#3), PS (#6), PLA and Polycarbonate plastics (#7) should be avoided.
- BPA, a hormone-disrupting chemical, can be found in some plastics.
- Check the recycling codes on plastic containers to see if they are safe for food storage.
Storing food properly is vital to ensure it is safe for future consumption. But how do you know which plastics are safe to hold food?
PET (#1), HDPE (#2), LDPE (#4), and PP (#5) are safe plastics for food storage. These are used to make food-related products, such as juice and milk jugs, grocery bags, bread bags, produce bags, and food storage boxes. Avoid plastics with BPA, as leaching can occur and cause health problems.
It is important for anyone who stores food to know what plastics are safe. As someone who preps meals and stores emergency food, I know about the different types of plastics you should use to keep your food fresh and safe. In this article, I look at which plastic containers are safe for storing food and water, which ones to avoid and how to know the difference.
What Makes Plastic Containers Safe For Food Storage?
To determine if plastic is safe for food storage, you need to understand the following factors:
- Type of Plastic: As mentioned above, PET (#1), HDPE (#2), LDPE (#4), and PP (#5) are generally considered safe for food storage. These plastics have been tested and approved by the FDA for food contact.
- BPA-Free: Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a chemical commonly used in some plastics, but it can harm human health, especially for children and pregnant women. Look for BPA-free plastics to avoid any potential health risks.
- Leaching Potential: Some plastics may leach chemicals or harmful toxins into food or water, especially when exposed to heat or acidic foods. Check the recycling code on the bottom of the container to see if it is safe for food storage.
- Durability and Stability: Choose sturdy plastic food containers that can withstand the wear and tear of repeated use. Avoid plastics prone to cracking or breaking, as this can increase the risk of food contamination.
- Proper Care: Even safe plastics can become unsafe for food storage if not properly cleaned and cared for. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning and storing plastic containers.
Always prioritize safety when storing food to remain fresh and safe for consumption.
What Is BPA, And Is It Ok For Food Storage?
BPA stands for Bisphenol-A, a chemical compound that produces some plastics, such as polycarbonate and epoxy resins. BPA can be found in everyday products, including plastic containers, water bottles, canned foods, and dental fillings.
BPA has been shown to have adverse health effects on humans, particularly the endocrine system. Studies have linked BPA exposure to various health problems, including cancer, obesity, diabetes, and reproductive disorders.
For this reason, it is generally recommended to avoid plastics that contain BPA, especially for food storage. The US FDA has banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups, and many companies have begun to produce BPA-free plastics in response to consumer concerns.
It is also important to note that even if plastic is labeled BPA-free, it may still contain other harmful chemicals or additives. Therefore, it is always a good idea to do your research and choose food storage containers made from materials that are known to be safe and non-toxic.
What Plastics Are BPA-Free?
Food Safe Plastics
#1 Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE)
PETE, or PET (#1), is a widely used plastic for food storage and is generally considered safe. However, there have been reports of PETE water bottles leaching chemicals, particularly when exposed to high temperatures. At temperatures around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, levels of chemicals are typically considered safe. However, as temperatures rise, the risk of dangerous chemicals leaching into the contents increases.
For this reason, if you live in a very hot environment, it may not be wise to use PET plastics for food storage. Additionally, PET plastic is not recommended for long-term water storage as it can develop tiny holes as it degrades, leading to water leakage.
#2 High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
HDPE (#2) is widely regarded as one of the best plastics for food storage. This durable and robust plastic is commonly used for food-related items like milk jugs and buckets due to its strength and reliability.
Compared to other food-safe plastics, HDPE is considered to be the least likely to leach harmful chemicals into its contents, making it a great option for food and beverage containers. However, it's important to note that HDPE containers will eventually break down, which can be problematic if you use recycled milk jugs for water storage.
It's also essential to remember that HDPE is frequently used for non-food items like motor oil or cleaning products. As such, using an HDPE container that previously contained non-food items for food storage is never safe.
#4 Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) is a plastic commonly used for food storage and packaging. LDPE (#4) is a flexible and durable plastic used to make food storage bags, plastic wrap, and squeeze bottles.
LDPE is considered safe for food storage as it is not known to leach harmful chemicals into its contents. It is also resistant to impact and puncture, making it ideal for storing foods that may require additional protection.
One downside of LDPE is that it is not as heat resistant as other plastics, so it should not be used for microwaveable or hot food items. In addition, LDPE containers are not as sturdy as other plastics and may not hold up well over time. As with any plastic, following the manufacturer's guidelines for proper use and disposal is important.
#5 Polypropylene (PP)
Polypropylene (PP) is a versatile plastic commonly used for food storage and packaging. PP (#5) is a durable and heat-resistant plastic used to make food storage containers, microwaveable dishes, and bottle caps.
PP is generally considered safe for food storage, as it is not known to leach harmful chemicals into its contents. Additionally, PP is microwave safe and can withstand high temperatures, making it ideal for reheating food. It is also resistant to impact and puncture, which helps to keep food fresh and protected.
One downside of PP is that it may become brittle over time when exposed to sunlight or heat, making it less durable. Additionally, PP is not as clear as some other plastics, which may make it difficult to see the contents of a container.
What Plastics Should You Avoid?
When it comes to food storage, it's important to avoid certain types of plastics that are known to be harmful. Here are a few plastics that you should avoid:
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC or #3)
PVC is commonly used for food wrap, blister packaging, and plastic containers. However, PVC can release harmful chemicals called phthalates, which can interfere with hormones and cause other health problems.
Polystyrene (PS or #6)
Polystyrene is a plastic commonly used for takeout containers, disposable plates, and cups. Unfortunately, polystyrene can release styrene, a chemical that is a possible human carcinogen.
Polycarbonate (#7) is a type of plastic commonly used to manufacture reusable water bottles, baby bottles, and food storage containers. It is a durable plastic that can withstand high temperatures and resist impact and shattering.
However, polycarbonate plastic has been found to release bisphenol-A (BPA) over time, especially when exposed to heat or acidic foods or beverages.
Polylactide (#7), or PLA, is a biodegradable plastic made from cornstarch or other plant materials. Recently, it has become increasingly popular as an eco-friendly alternative to traditional plastics.
While PLA is biodegradable and compostable, it may not be suitable for long-term food storage. This is because PLA has a lower melting point than other plastics and can start to break down at temperatures above 100°F (38°C). This means that hot foods or liquids stored in PLA containers can cause the plastic to degrade, potentially releasing chemicals into the food.
Additionally, PLA containers may not be as durable as traditional plastics and can break down over time, especially when exposed to moisture. This can lead to cracking or leaking, compromising the safety and freshness of the food stored inside.
How To Tell The Difference Between Safe And Non-Food-Safe Containers
It is important to know which plastic storage containers are safe for storing food and which should be avoided. Here are some tips on how to tell the difference:
- Look for recycling codes: All plastic containers are labeled with a recycling code, a number inside a triangle of arrows. Safe plastics for food storage include #1 (PETE), #2 (HDPE), #4 (LDPE), and #5 (PP). Plastics to avoid include #3 (PVC), #6 (PS), and #7 (other), which may contain harmful chemicals.
- Check for BPA-free labels: If you are unsure about the safety of a plastic container, look for products labeled as BPA-free. This means the plastic does not contain bisphenol-A, a potentially harmful chemical that can leach into food.
- Avoid reusing non-food-safe containers: Some plastic containers, such as those used for motor oil or cleaning products, may not be safe for storing food. Therefore, avoiding reusing these containers for food storage is best, even if they have been washed and appear clean.
- Consider alternative materials: If you are concerned about the safety of plastic containers, consider using alternative materials like glass or stainless steel for food storage.
What Is The Safest Plastic For Food?
Polypropylene (PP), designated by recycling code #5, is generally considered the least toxic of all plastics. PP is a highly stable and inert plastic less likely to leach chemicals into food and drinks than other plastics.
PP has a high melting point, making it a good choice for products that require sterilization or exposure to high temperatures, such as hot-fill products or microwaving. PP is also a relatively strong and durable plastic resistant to many chemicals, making it a popular choice for industrial applications.