Which Plastics Are Safe for Food Storage?

Some plastics can be recycled for water or food storage while others contain toxins not suitable for storage. Other containers may be difficult to disinfect, may allow evaporation or they may begin to collapse over a long period of time. However, in general, when determining which plastics can be reused, a good rule of thumb is that if the container originally stored food, it can be safely used for food again. Consider the following information. See additional details about which plastics are safe for your food storage and how to use them.

  • PET or PETE — This type of plastic, polyethylene terephthalate is listed as number 1 inside the recycling triangle diagram. PET plastic is clear, tough and has gas and moisture barrier properties. This plastic is commonly used for beverages such as soft drinks, juices and bottled water. It is also used for foods such as peanut butter, pickles and salad dressing. Keep in mind that there will always be a remaining scent in containers that originally stored food with strong odors.
  • HDPE  — High density polyethylene is the plastic commonly used for milk bottles, some juice containers and laundry products. It is shown as number 2 on the triangle code. These containers can be translucent or colored and are somewhat stiff and well-suited for packaging products with a short shelf life, such as milk. However, used milk jugs are not well suited as food storage containers. While the plastic is considered food grade, milk containers are difficult to sanitize properly, and the plastic will break down over time. Chlorine bleach containers hold up somewhat better, but if water is stored in these containers, it should be used for purposes other than drinking, such as for laundry or dishes. Avoid using plastic garbage bags or plastic grocery bags made from this plastic as food storage liners.
  • PVC — Most think of plastic pipes when the term PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is used. The triangle code lists the number 3. This plastic weathers well, is stable for surrounding electrical cables and is a staple in home window frames, floor tiles and siding. This plastic can be used for both food and non-food purposes. Make certain the container has not been treated for use in industry or construction before storing food in it.
  • LDPE — Low density polyethylene plastics are listed as the number 4 on the triangle code. They are used for a wide range of items such as dry-cleaning bags, bread and frozen food bags and squeezable bottles for mustard and honey. To recycle these for food storage, consider what was in them previously and how easily the containers can be sanitized. This is probably not the best plastic for long-term food storage.
  • PP —  Polypropylene is noted as the number 5 on the triangle code. This plastic is tough and may be stiff or flexible. Yogurt containers, margarine tubs and medicine bottles are examples of food grade containers made from this plastic. Polypropylene is also used to make ice scrapers, oil funnels, rakes, pallets and refrigerator food storage bins. It is a widely used plastic.
  • PS — This is polystyrene, a number 6 on the recycling triangle. It is a rigid plastic or a foam that is clear, hard and brittle. Typical uses include cups, plates, cutlery, egg cartons, meat trays and compact disc jackets. While this is widely used in packaging, it doesn’t usually come in containers suitable for food storage.
  • Other — The last category is the number 7. This code means that the package is made with a resin other than the six listed above or is a combination of two or more of them. For foods and food storage, number 7 containers are commonly found in 3 and 5 gallon reusable water bottles/jugs, some citrus juice containers and ketchup bottles.

As a general rule, the most common plastics for food storage are made from number 1, PET or PETE, or number 7, a combination of any of the plastics above. For further information, visit http://www.ides.com/resources/plastic-recycling-codes.asp. Also see this article.

See additional food storage resources:

By: Kathlene Riggs - Jul. 23, 2009