Glass Versus Plastic Containers

By Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN
storage containers

Joe Belanger/iStock/Thinkstock

Whether you're on a quest to prevent food waste or you simply want to store prepared food, reusable containers can do the job. But some food containers are safer than others when it comes to personal and environmental health. Here's what you need to know.

  • Know the code. On the bottom of plastic food storage containers, you’ll find a tiny triangle with a number (resin identification code) in it, ranging from 1 to 7, indicating the type of plastic. In general, the safest choices for food use are numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5. That's because number 3 is vinyl or polyvinyl chloride (PVC), 6 is polystyrene and 7 can be various plastics. Some plastic containers with the resin codes of 3 and 7 may contain Bisphenol-A (BPA).
  • Go BPA free. BPA is a chemical used in manufacturing polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, including some food packaging. Since BPA can leach from plastic containers into foods and beverages, especially when the containers are heated, it may pose a potential risk to the environment and your health, notably your children's health.
  • Keep it cool. Though polycarbonate plastic is strong and long-lasting, it can break down over time from high temperatures and overuse. Never microwave foods in plastic food containers, including margarine tubs and restaurant carryout containers. Plastic containers from packaged microwavable meals shouldn't be reused after their initial use; they're safely designed for one-time-use only.
  • Recycle as appropriate. Not enough people are doing so. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. only recycled about 14 percent of plastic containers and packaging in 2012. Nearly 12 million tons was disposed! This can contribute to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, impacting the health of the environment.

Go with Glass

  • Glass is overall a safer bet for food storage than plastic. Glass can be safely used for hot foods or liquids. (Ceramic, stoneware or stainless steel containers can be safe bets, too.)
  • Use and reuse. You can reuse glass containers since they don't pose harmful risks to environmental or personal health. They don't leach potentially harmful chemicals when in contact with food.

The Bottom Line

Pick plastic food containers wisely. Use them for cold food storage. They can be ideal for transporting food. Choose glass containers most often. Use them for cold or hot foods. They're ideal for home food storage. When in doubt, pass on plastic; go with glass.

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