Whether it’s pistachio nuts, pasta, rice, or pretzels, your go-to to store them is probably a plastic container. However, not all plastic is the same, and the sturdy waterproof material also isn’t entirely air-tight. While your dry food may taste fresh for short periods, your trusty plastic containers will need some backup if you need to use them to store dry food for longer.
Plastic containers labeled with codes 1, 2, 4, and 5 are the safest to store dry food. PETE containers and bottles can be recycled to store dry food if they are clean and have an air-tight lid. Plastic is not air-tight for extended storage, and dry food may be affected by light and rodents.
While storing warm food in plastic containers is never a good idea, what about dry food? Is it safe to reuse plastic containers or soda bottles to store dry food? Find out which plastic containers can be trusted to keep your valuable food stock safe and delicious.
Storing Dry Food In Plastic Containers
Plastic containers are lightweight, convenient, and inexpensive. This, together with the moisture-proof covering provided by plastic, makes it seem like an ideal material to store dry food.
Storing food in plastic containers isn’t as simple as choosing any bucket with a lid to get the job done. Although there are plenty of plastic container options that can make your dry food last longer, not all are safe to be in direct contact with food.
A good rule of thumb when planning to store food in plastic containers is to:
- Ensure that they are made from food-grade plastic.
- Never recycle plastic containers intended as single-use disposables, for example, flimsy plastic water bottles.
- When repurposing used plastic containers or bottles, consider the original contents before using them to store your food.
- When in doubt, double up and keep food in its original packaging, or add a mylar bag before storing it in a plastic container.
- Ensure that the lids fit tightly. When using plastic bottles to store dry food, only use the kind that has screw-on lids that close tightly.
All plastic containers have a small triangle shape with a number from 1 – 7 printed on the underside. The number is a code that lets you know what sort of plastic the container is made from.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has indicated that the safest choices for storing food are numbers 1, 2, 4, and 5. Plastics marked with code 1 are usually single-use containers. These plastics do not contain any of the harmful chemical BPA which could leach into food.
Plastic containers should always be kept cool, as high temperatures can cause the plastic to break down. Wash containers by hand rather than in a dishwasher. Also, never put them in the microwave to warm up food.
How Do I Store Dry Goods?
For short-term storage, dry food, like uncooked pasta or cereal, can be placed directly in sturdy food-grade plastic containers. Dampness is one of the leading causes of spoilage when dry food is stored in plastic containers for short periods, so always check that the lid fits tightly.
Since plastic is not air-tight, keeping your dry food in its original packaging is a good idea when storing it inside plastic containers. A tough plastic outer shell provides a rigid moisture-proof layer of protection for dry food, but it will not protect dry food from the effects of exposure to air.
An excellent method to store dry food in bulk for long periods is to use 5-gallon plastic buckets lined with mylar bags. By adding an oxygen absorber and sealing the bag and bucket, many dried foods can be stored for up to thirty years!
Although plastic is a practical choice for stocking up on food, it does have some limitations if you need to store dry products for long periods.
Limitations Of Using Plastic Containers To Store Dry Food
While storing dry food in plastic containers will protect it from moisture, it does have some limitations.
- Plastic is not air-tight. Although it provides a waterproof barrier, oxygen will slowly seep through the plastic and affect the quality of your food.
- It may taint the taste of food. Plastic absorbs odors and flavors, and sometimes no matter how much you wash a container, some element of whatever was previously stored in the container may remain. Some new plastics also carry a mild ‘plasticy’ taste – you may have detected it if you have stored dry pretzels in a plastic container.
- Thin plastic containers are not rodent-proof. Reusing soda bottles is a popular method to store dry food, but sharp rodent teeth can quickly demolish the thin plastic shell.
- Light can spoil food. Most plastic containers are transparent, so you can see what is inside. Unfortunately, this convenience comes at a price, as light energy contributes to food spoiling faster. To keep your dry food fresh for as long as possible, always keep it in a cool, dark area if it is stored in plastic.
- Pay special attention to how well the container seals. Lids must be tight-fitting to lock out as much air as possible that can spoil dry food.
What Dry Foods Can I Store In Plastic Containers?
Not all dry products are suitable for storing in plastic containers. Food must contain less than 10% moisture and have a very low oil content to be stored successfully.
The following are examples of dry foods that last well when stored in plastic containers and those which are not suitable for storing in plastic containers.
|Dry food that is suitable for storing in plastic containers
|Dry food that is not suitable for storing in plastic containers
|Legumes, including dry beans, lentils, and split peas
|Wheat, wheat berries
|Whole grain flours
|Commercially purchased dehydrated fruits and vegetables where moisture content is accurately indicated on the label.
|Home-dehydrated fruits and vegetables
|Nonfat dry milk
|Dried eggs or milk
|White sugar – do not use an oxygen absorber
|Cake or pancake mixes
Can You Store Food In Plastic Bottles?
Repurposing plastic bottles with air-tight screw-on lids is an excellent way to store shelf-stable dry food in your pantry. PETE plastic bottles, especially juice and soda bottles, can work well as low-cost plastic storage containers.
To use plastic bottles to store dry food, you will need the following:
- Clean, dry plastic bottles. Only use bottles that originally contained beverages or food. Plastic milk jugs do not work well as the plastic is thin and brittle. Stick to juice, water, and soda bottles.
- Bottles must have screw-top lids.
- Oxygen absorbers: 300cc absorbers are suitable for bottles up to 1-gallon capacity.
- Labels and marker
- Duct tape
Before starting this project, check that the bottles are washed a few days in advance so that they are completely dry inside. Any moisture trapped inside the plastic bottle with your food will cause mold to develop.
To fill the bottle, first place an oxygen absorber in the bottom and, using the funnel, quickly fill it with the dry ingredients of your choice. Have everything ready before you start so the activated oxygen absorber is not wasted.
Fill the plastic bottle right to the rim with the dry food – there is no need to leave any headspace when filling plastic containers. Check that the lid is dry and tighten it onto the bottle.
Adding a strip of tape around the lid once it is sealed is a practical step to prevent other family members from accidentally opening the bottle. Then label each bottle with the ingredient being stored, the date, and the expected expiration date.
Store the plastic bottles containing dry food in a dark, dry, cool place. Packing the filled bottles inside cardboard boxes is a convenient way to store them.
Is It Better To Store Dry Food In Plastic Or Glass?
Plastic and glass are both useful materials for food storage. Plastic is lighter, easier to transport, freezes well, and saves space, while glass provides an air-tight seal, looks better, and is safer since it doesn’t leach toxic components even when heated. Glass is also better for the environment.
Plastic and glass are both invaluable materials in a homestead pantry. Almost anything can be safely canned in trusty glass mason jars, which keeps food sterile and protected for years. However, glass is often not the best choice for freezing food as it can crack when food expands, and since it is heavy and fragile, it’s not the best choice for storing picnic food.
But when it comes to storing bulk dry food for long periods, plastic comes out on top. Plastic containers are also helpful for storing meal prep in the refrigerator, although salads stay fresher when refrigerated in glass jars.
In terms of cleaning and durability, glass is a better option than plastic. Plastic containers should always be hand washed in lukewarm, soapy water so they retain their shape, while glass jars and containers can be washed safely in the dishwasher.
Dry food can be safely stored in plastic containers marked with codes 1, 2, 4, and 5. Plastic containers are robust, lightweight, easily transported, and save space on pantry shelves. Not all dry food is suitable to store in plastic containers. Since plastic is not entirely air-tight, containers should be reinforced with mylar bags when storing dry food in bulk for long periods.