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Purchasing and preparing food involves using a variety of different storage containers. Plastic is a common material for food storage. Some consumers prefer to avoid plastic food containers, instead choosing glass containers to hold food products in the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. As you explore your options for home food storage, consider the benefits and risks of various materials to determine what you wish to use to keep food fresh. You may decide that glass would be an improvement over plastic storage containers.
The Code on the Bottom
Plastic containers feature a triangular mark on the bottom surface. The outer triangle is made up of arrows. Inside this triangle, you will see a numeric code ranging between one and seven. The number shown on the bottom of a plastic container indicates the type of plastic used to produce the item. Some types of plastic are recyclable, and other types are not. You can base some of your purchase decisions on the code on plastic containers, because this code will tell you whether you can recycle the plastic and whether the plastic is rated for food storage.
- Plastic Containers Labeled with Code for Basic Material Used in Bottle or Container - The Ohio Revised Code outlines plastic containers and the labeling system that places codes on the plastic.
- The Plastic Code (PDF) - Explore the various codes that may appear on the bottoms of plastic containers to learn about this system.
- Plastic Resin Code Labeling (PDF) - The plastics industry must adhere to a strict coding system to label products.
- SPI Resin Identification Code - Guide to Correct Use - View images of codes that might appear on the bottoms of plastic containers, shown on this website.
Expiration Dates on Prepackaged Products
Prepackaged food products usually feature an expiration date on the bottom of the container. While the FDA does not require bottled water manufacturers to provide an expiration date for their products, many of these manufacturers have voluntarily added expiration dates to inform consumers about recommended use periods for optimal quality of the bottled water. Consumers should generally avoid using prepackaged foods that have expired, because these products may not be safe to consume. Expired foods may not have the same nutrient content as stated on food labels.
- Bottled Water Regulation and the FDA - The FDA shares bottled water regulations, including the voluntary date stamps on the bottoms of the bottles.
- Bottled Water: Questions and Answers - The Minnesota Department of Health advises consumers that expiration dates that may appear on water bottles are voluntarily added by producers.
- Shelf-Stable Food Safety - The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides data about the times for shelf-stable foods.
- Still Tasty - Browse the various food categories to learn how long various foods will remain safe to eat.
What is BPA & Why is it Dangerous?
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Bisphenol A is a chemical present in some types of plastic. It's possible that BPA present in plastic and some metal food containers may transfer to the foods and beverages stored in the containers. Health experts are researching possible adverse health effects from BPA, including brain issues, fetal development problems, and undesired symptoms in children. Consumers wishing to limit exposure to BPA can select food products in BPA-free containers. Using BPA-free food storage containers in the home is another way to limit BPA exposure.
- Bisphenol A (BPA) - Explore information about BPA, including where it occurs and potential health effects from this chemical.
- Bisphenol A (BPA) Fact Sheet - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide a comprehensive fact sheet about BPA.
- Bisphenol A Overview - Learn how people may be exposed to BPA with information presented by the New York State Department of Health.
- Bisphenol A (BPA) Action Plan Summary - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shares an outline of planned actions for managing the risks associated with BPA.
Microwaving & Heating
Food manufacturers have designed some packaging for specific use in the microwave. These containers must have a special marking or designation that indicates "microwave safe" design. Food containers that do not indicate microwave safety may not be safe to use in the microwave due to the potential for melting and warping from heat. If melting occurs, chemicals in the plastic could transfer to foods.
- Smart Plastics Guide - Healthier Food Uses of Plastics (PDF) - Using plastic in the kitchen requires care to prevent potential health issues from occurring.
- How to Microwave Safely - Do not place specific types of plastic in the microwave oven to avoid dangerous melting.
- Microwaving Food in Plastic: Dangerous or Not? - The Harvard Medical School offers advice to consumers about microwaving food in plastic containers.
- Microwaves and Plastics: How to Safely Re-Heat Your Leftovers - Learn which plastics may be safer to place in microwave ovens with information presented on this web page.
Refrigerating & Freezing
Storing food in plastic containers is generally safe for both refrigeration and freezing. Experts recommend that consumers should always wrap foods tightly or place food into storage containers that match the amount of food. For example, filling a container halfway with food and freezing may lead to freezer burn due to excess unused space in the container. Never place food into plastic containers or bags that are not designed for food storage due to the potential for chemicals transferring into the food.
- Food Storage Safety Tips for the Fridge and Freezer - When storing food in the refrigerator or freezer, always wrap or contain it tightly to extend storage life.
- Safe Home Food Storage (PDF) - The Texas Agricultural Extension Services advises consumers about different storage options for food.
How to Recycle
Recycling helps prevent glass and plastic food containers from reaching landfills. Most communities offer curbside pickup for recyclables to make it easy for consumers to recycle. Check the codes on the bottoms of plastic containers to determine whether the items are recyclable. Some plastics are always recyclable, whereas other types of plastics may or may not be recyclable in your community. Check with your local municipality regarding the types of plastics you can recycle.
- A Guide to Recycling Plastics (PDF) - Frederick County, Maryland, shares a guide to recycling plastics with consumers.
- Lifecycle of a Plastic Product - The American Chemistry Council provides an overview of the processes of manufacturing, using, and recycling plastic products.
- What do I do With Plastic? - A local municipality guides residents through typical plastics recycling.
The Benefits of Glass Containers
One storage strategy involves the use of glass containers in the kitchen. Glass does not have the potential for chemicals transferring into food, making it an optimal food storage option. You can also reuse glass containers for an inexpensive food storage method. When you are ready to recycle glass containers, this process is often more environmentally friendly due to fewer chemicals produced during recycling.
- Selection of Food Containers: Glass Jars (PDF) - Food processing specialists provide an overview of glass jars as food storage containers.
- Food Packaging - Penn State Extension shares information about reusing glass containers for food storage.
- Food Storage Containers - The National Resources Defense Council advises consumers about some dangers with using plastic containers and also explains the benefits of using glass for food storage.