The Dangers of and 3 Alternatives to Plastic Food Storage Containers
Plastic food storage containers have become "the norm" in most kitchens. It's almost impossible to avoid them completely, and it's certainly a challenge to find plastic alternatives at most stores.
But plastics come with health concerns and challenges that are worth the effort to avoid. For instance, most plastics contain BPA, bisphenol A, a chemical found in the processing of plastics that had been found to leach into foods and have been linked to a disruption of hormones and many other health issues.
Even the plastics marked BPA-free may still be dangerous, containing BPS instead. Still a bisphenol, it has shown the same hormone-disrupting dangers of BPA. (BPA and BPS can also be found in things such as the lining in canned goods and receipt paper.)
Also, as plastics begin to wear down and shown signs of aging (splintering, scratches, etc) the likelihood of contaminating your food goes up. Many plastics on the market these days are only meant to last a few months; others may last up to a year before showing signs of needing replacement. This is not only bad for your health, but for your budget, and the environment. And if your local recycling facility doesn't accept all types of plastics, you may find yourself with no alternative but to throw them in the trash.
So on all accounts, it's a better bet to avoid plastics whenever possible (and it's pretty much always possible), and below are some of the alternatives to plastic food storage containers of any kind that you can do to do just that. Because seriously, what's the point of putting your organic foods into a chemical-leaching container?
Small to Medium Glass Jars
Small to medium glass jars, such as Mason or Ball, are probably the handiest of all food storage and definitely my first go-to to avoid plastic food storage containers. They usually vary in size for 4 ounces to 2 quarts, and can be used over and over. They are handy for:
- Unsealed jars:
- Cupboard: dried beans, nuts, cereals, etc
- Countertop: Home-baked goods, snacks, etc
- Freezer storage (short-term)*: leftovers, broths, etc
- Properly sealed (such as pressure canning):
- Cupboards/Cabinets: sauces, soups, fruits, etc
- Freezer storage (long-term)*: fruits, veggies, bulk meals, etc
They also make extra drinking glasses in a pinch! I'd recommend going for wide mouth jars to make filling and cleaning easier. Also, choose the two piece "lid and band" top, instead of the one piece; the bands can be used again and again, and the lids replaced as needed to reduce waste.
Large Jars with Clamp Lids
Large jars with clamp lids usually include a glass body and lid with a silicone gasket to help keep the container airtight. They come in all sizes, but the large ones are great to have on hand for these kinda of things:
- Storing cereals or large bulk foods in the cupboard
- Fridge storage: Milk, juice, leftovers, etc
- Freezer*: Soup, chili, or other large amounts of leftovers for the fridge or freezer (short- to medium-term)
- Making kombucha or kefir
The silicone bands will wear out over time, but are easily replaced. The drawback of these larger jars are that they are heavy and may not be easy to handle for little hands.
In addition to jars of all sizes, you can also find glass containers of all shapes and sizes, many times with a glass lid. These are sometimes airtight with plastic lids, and sometimes with non-airtight glass lids only.
Stainless Steel Food Storage
Stainless steel containers are a great alternative to plastic food storage containers. It's lighter-weight, making it easier for children to handle and can be used in many different ways:
- Great for lunchboxes
- Cupboard/Countertops: dry goods, bake goods, etc
- Fridge storage: Leftovers, homemade goods, etc
When you're replacing plastic food storage containers with metal, be sure you make a safe switch by choosing food grade stainless steel - should be labeled 18/8 and #304 - and not lined (often with BPA or other bisphenols) or actually made of aluminum.
Wondering what to do with the plastic containers you currently have? Depending on their state, you may use them for storing non-food items (such as bathroom or travel items), or check with your local recycling facility to ensure they accept the number on the bottom of your plastic containers.
*BE CAREFUL using glass jars in the freezers. Some don't withstand, and anything that contains liquid will expand, which will cause your jar to crack. Check with your manufacturer to make sure they are approved for freezer use, and then allow the food to freeze and expand before placing a lid on them (for short-term use obviously). Those jars in the picture up there? Even though we followed all the precautions, some still cracked. So be aware!