Plastic, Glass, or Stainless-Steel: What Material Is Best When It Comes to Food Storage Containers?
Find out what our expert says about choosing and taking care of your containers.
Whether you're loyal to a particular brand (think Tupperware or OXO) or a certain material (plastic, glass, or stainless steel), food storage containers are kitchen essentials. They're just the thing for storing leftovers or components of a make-ahead meal, but they can also do double duty, serving as a container to transport lunch or snacks when you're on the go. And it's important to clean them properly if you want to ensure their longevity—some types can last years, not months, if you know how to maintain them. Ahead, we're sharing the difference between three common materials, how to properly care for food storage containers, and signs that it's time to replace yours.
In terms of durability, plastic is the most likely to show wear and tear and absorb food odors and stains. "It's important to keep track of how long you've had a plastic container, as chemicals can 'leak' out of the plastic when heating up," says Leanne Stapf, Chief Operating Officer of The Cleaning Authority. An obvious sign that it's time to throw out a plastic container is if it is cracked, discolored, or deformed. If you own plastic containers that are not BPA-free, you may want to get rid of those, too. Studies have found that Bisphenol A, or BPA, is an endocrine-disrupting compound, which may disrupt normal hormone functions in the body.
Depending on the material of the plastic container, it may need to be hand-washed. "While most plastic items are dishwasher-safe, be sure to read all labels. Some plastic [particularly thin, takeout-style containers] can warp due to the high temperatures. In the long run, [some] plastic food containers can get damaged from dishwasher use and lose their shape," adds Stapf.
Glass is a choice that is far more eco-friendly, safe, and durable than plastic containers. According to OXO, glass should be replaced for safety reasons if it becomes chipped. The heavy nature of glass containers also means that they are better suited for storing leftovers or prepared food in your refrigerator or freezer than for using as a travel container. They also tend to be bulkier, so if you're short on space, plastic may be easier to store. Wash them in the dishwasher after each use and glass containers will last for years.
Stainless steel is rising in popularity for food storage containers because of its eco-friendly nature. The downside to stainless steel containers is that they're not transparent, so you can't see what's inside. Another con is that unlike glass and some plastic, stainless steel containers cannot go in the microwave or oven. However, they're odor-resistant so the flavors and smells from a potent meal won't penetrate the metal. They're also highly durable, eco-friendly, and dishwasher safe, which makes clean-up a breeze. They may show scuff marks or scratches eventually, but this is only cosmetic and won't affect the performance of the container. With proper care, stainless steel containers will be good to use for years to come.