Plastic vs. Glass Storage Containers

Plastic vs. Glass Storage Containers

Most of us store food on a regular basis, whether it’s leftovers, packed lunches for school and work, or meals cooked ahead of time for the coming week. If you haven’t given much thought to the plastic and glass containers you’re using for food storage, here’s some information to help you with your choices.

Plastic Food Containers

Plastic containers are one of the most convenient ways to store food. However, not all plastics are food-safe. Some contain toxic chemicals that can leach into your food and create health issues.

In order to tell if a plastic is safe to store food, every container manufactured after 1988 should have a Resin Identification Code (RIC) that identifies the type of plastic with a number from 1 to 7 inside a little triangle.

Advantages of Plastic Containers

  • Weigh very little and are easy to carry.
  • Not as expensive.
  • Stackable.
  • Not easily broken.
  • Child-friendly.

Disadvantages of Plastic Containers

  • Most plastics can’t be heated in the microwave, or placed in the dishwasher. None are oven-safe. Higher temperatures result in the release of toxins.
  • Easily stained and retains odors. Need to be thoroughly cleaned.
  • Many can’t be recycled.
  • Not all are transparent for viewing the contents.
  • Don’t last as long. Can lose their shape, crack, chip, peel, and melt under high temperatures. For safety reasons damaged plastic containers should be thrown out.
  • Shouldn’t be used to store food long-term.

Plastics Safe for Food Storage

RIC #1 PET or PETE (Polyethylene Terephthalate)

PETE is one of the most popular plastics. It’s clear, lightweight, and is used for such items as bottled water, soft drinks, juices, peanut butter, salad dressings, and pickled food. Generally it’s considered safe for single use, although there have been concerns that at higher temperatures water bottles leach chemicals into the contents.

For areas with warmer climates, it’s probably not a good idea to use PETE plastic for food storage. Also this plastic shouldn’t be used for long-term water storage because it will deteriorate and start to leak.

A benefit of this plastic is that it is recyclable.

RIC #2 HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)

HDPE is a long-lasting, nontransparent sturdy plastic, and is considered the best of the safe food plastics. It’s used in milk, juice, and water jugs, and in food-grade buckets used for long-term food storage. You’ll also find HDPE in tubs used to store semi-solid foods such as yogurt, butter, jello, pudding, and ice cream.

HDPE is used as well in containers for non-food items such as household cleaning products and motor oil. It’s not safe to store food in any HDPE container that once held these items.

Some people like to store drinking water in used milk jugs. These are difficult to thoroughly clean, so it’s best to avoid doing this. HDPE is also recyclable into items such as: pipes, toys, rope, trash cans, and recycling bins.

RIC #4 LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene)

LDPE plastic is used for such items as frozen food bags, sandwich wraps, squeezable ketchup, honey, water, and mustard bottles. Generally these plastic items are safe for one-time use, but they’re not practical to sanitize for reuse or long-term food storage. However, you can use LDPE freezer plastic bags to safely store frozen food for its recommended storage time.

This plastic is not always accepted for recycling, so check with your local recycling program first.

RIC #5 PP (Polypropylene)

PP is used in the following items: yogurt, margarine, cream cheese, sour cream, and deli meat containers, as well as ketchup bottles, baby bottles, pails, tupperware, cereal box liners, and potato chip bags. Some manufacturers prefer the lighter PP plastic over HDPE for dairy and deli packaging because it costs less to produce and transport.

PP plastic stands up well to heat, acids, and grease. It’s therefore both microwave and dishwasher safe, and is the best plastic for storing foods such as vegetable oil and tomato sauce.

This plastic is sometimes recyclable, and is becoming more acceptable in recycling programs.

Plastics Unsafe for Food Storage

RIC #3 PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) 

PVC is used in food-related products such as plastic plates, cling wrap, cooking oil bottles, sandwich bags, and squeeze bottles. It contains the toxic chemicals lead, cadmium, phthalates, and ethylene dichloride that can leach into food. PVC is not considered safe for food storage, and is not collected in all recycling programs.

RIC #6 PS (Polystyrene)

PS plastic is found in plastic cutlery, plates, trays, meat trays, and all styrofoam products. It leaches a harmful chemical into food called styrene that’s considered a carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Avoid this plastic, and never heat it.

It’s also not recyclable in many programs.

RIC #7 (Other)

This category includes everything else, whether it’s made from a mixture or another plastic type not included in the other categories. One example is polycarbonate, a common #7 plastic found in reusable water bottles or baby bottles. It contains a toxin called bisphenol-a (BPA) that’s been linked to health issues. Other #7 plastics, such as the polylactic acid (PLA) ones, are considered safe to use.

If you’re considering using a #7 plastic, check to see that it’s BPA-free. Even with BPA-free plastic items (e.g. juice and food containers, sports bottles) keep them out of direct sunlight, and don’t heat them.

Often #7 plastics aren’t recyclable.

Glass Food Containers

Glass containers have some definite advantages over plastic:

  • They’re nonporous and nontoxic, and therefore can’t leach harmful chemicals into your food.
  • They’re 100 percent recyclable, and more environmentally friendly.
  • They last longer.
  • Safe for dishwashers , microwaves, and ovens.
  • Not easily stained.
  • Hold their shape.
  • Safe for long-term food storage.
  • Transparent for viewing contents.

Although glass containers are totally safe for food storage, they also have some disadvantages:

  • Easily broken.
  • Not as child-friendly.
  • More expensive.
  • Not stackable.
  • Heavier.

Choosing Between Plastic and Glass Containers

Plastic and glass containers each offer better solutions for the following situations:

  1. Packing lunches. Plastic is lighter to carry, without the worry of breakage. Different sizes are available for sandwiches, vegetables, etc., making it easier to organize lunch bags for work and the kids.
  2. Food storage in the fridge or freezer. Choose glass containers with a tight seal that are fridge- and freezer-safe. The tight seal will prevent leaks and food spoilage. Glass containers also won’t break in colder temperatures or leach chemicals into the food, even when frozen for longer periods.
  3. Saving storage space. Plastic containers are easily stacked, and sometimes the lids can be stored inside one container. There are even collapsible plastic containers now that are perfect for hiking, camping, or traveling.
  4. Attractiveness. Storing food in glass containers on counters or open kitchen shelves looks far more attractive than using plastic. There are different shapes, designs, and colors to choose from to complement your kitchen decor.

Making Safe Choices

Ultimately, choosing plastic or glass for food storage comes down to what makes sense and works for you in different circumstances. It may be that none of the plastics are totally safe, but you can make good choices by using containers with one of the safe plastic RIC numbers.

Some containers offer further help for wise choices by featuring these symbols: a “food-safe” cup and fork, a “microwave-safe” radiating wave, a “freezer-safe” snowflake, and a “dishwasher-safe” symbol of dishes in water.

For the very best in appliance repair and maintenance, you can count on C&W Appliance Service. Get in touch with us at (855) 358-1496 or submit our online service request form.


For the very best in appliance repair and maintenance, you can count on C&W Appliance Service.