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Food Grade Plastic Containers: What are they?

I didn’t think much about food-grade plastics until researching this article. There is a lot to know. Let’s start by defining what it is.

Food Grade Plastics are certified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as safe for direct contact with food and beverage. FDA testing ensures that containers don’t migrate chemicals to food and can withstand the intended purpose(s) like high and low temperatures and nonreactivity.

6 Things To Consider When Choosing A Food Container

  • Food-grade containers also store toxic chemicals.
  • If reusing containers, make sure you know what was in them.
  • Some plastics are not manufactured in a food-safe environment.
  • A food-safe plastic like HDPE #2 is not an indication that the container is food safe.
  • The orange “homer” buckets from Home Depot are not safe for food or beverage because of the chemicals used to manufacture them. (Home Depot offers white food-grade buckets)
  • Use plastics sold as food-safe.

Seven Resin Identification Codes (food grade plastic containers)

The plastic resin numbers represent the type of synthetic resin used to make each of the seven plastics. You will find the resin symbol(s) on the bottom of the container. If there is no symbol, don’t use it for food or beverage storage.

All seven resins or plastic types are certified by the U.S. Food and Drug Department as food safe if manufactured properly (for food storage) used for the intended purpose, and in an intended manner. For example, microwave safe.

Chart #1 Types of food-grade plastic

Resin Identification Codes DescriptionFactsRecycle
#1 PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) Used for bottled water. Clear and tough but degrades quickly. Retains the odor of strong foods stored in them
Considered food grade, PET plastic degrades quickly
Accepted by most recycling programs
(high-density polyethylene)
Used for milk bottles, 55 gallon-blue-food-grade-barrels, and plastic buckets sold for long-term food storage The most commonly used food-grade plastic Accepted by most recycling programs
#3 PVC (polyvinyl chloride)Typically used for pipes and flooring. Used to package cooking oil, and peanut butter, and to make the material in cling wrap Used for food and non-food purposesOn a small scale
(low-density polyethylene)
Used to store bread, frozen food, and for condiment squeeze bottles like mustardConsidered safe
for food storage. Reusable
Not accepted by most recycling programs
#5 PP (polypropylene)Microwave plastics are often made of PP. PP food packaging includes containers for yogurt and ice cream Considered safe for food storage.
Accepted by some recycling programs
Rigid and brittle. Used for plastic plates, cups, egg cartons, and butter tubs Considered safe for food contactAccepted by some recycling programs
This is a tough plastic and kind of a catch-all, it can include a mixture of the 6 other resins or something completely different. Make sure the container is marked as food safe. Can be food safeNot accepted by most recycling programs
#4 or #7
Plastics are made from biological materials like corn, wheat, or wood. Commonly called “cereal” plastics. New products are being researched and tested.Food-safe. Not as stable as petroleum-based plastics. Bio-plastics are more susceptible to the environment.Recyclable and more biodegradable than petroleum-based plastics but programs for recycling are few
Plastics Recycling.org Printable PDF

Resin Identification codes also provide a system for recycling and sorting post-consumer plastics.

Is Number 7 Plastic Safe?

The number 7 code is the other, or everything else section for plastic resins. You have to be aware of what you are buying, but don’t count it out. Some of the best reusable sports bottles are made from this resin.

Number 7 plastic is safe for food and drink. At one time, polycarbonate plastics contained BPA (Bisphenol A), a nasty toxin you don’t want in your drinking water. Purchase polycarbonate bottles that are marked BPA-free and food safe. Avoid old unmarked bottles of clear hard plastic.

5 Types of Number Seven Plastic (food grade plastic containers)

When using number seven plastics, be aware that there are quality products out there, but there are also some stinkers that will slide in BPA’s or other questionable chemicals.

  1. Bio-plastics– are made from renewable products like corn, wheat, wood, and even mushrooms. They are considered safe for food and drink if marked for the purpose.
  2. Polycarbonates- are transparent, colored, or opaque rigid plastic that is safe for food and drink as long as it is marked BPA-free and food safe.
  3. Tritan- This is a sturdy clear plastic that doesn’t contain BPAs. Considered food safe if marked for the purpose.
  4. ABS- (Acrylic Styrene) is A sturdy, rigid plastic with suitable temperature and chemical resistance. ABS is food and drink safely if marked for the purpose.
  5. TPE- (Thermoplastic elastomers) are usually a mixture of different types of plastics. Only use these containers if they are marked food-safe and BPA-free

My favorite water bottle is a wide-mouth Nalgene; it doesn’t leave my side. I just turned it upside down and realized it’s #7 plastic; thankfully, it’s BPA-free.

International Symbol (food grade plastic containers)

If you see the wine glass and fork symbol on a container or packaging, it indicates that the plastic is safe for food contact.

  • “Safe for food contact,” doesn’t mean “safe” under every circumstance. For instance, if the plastic isn’t microwave-safe, and it’s heated in a microwave, toxins may be released into your food.
  • The glass and fork indicate that an otherwise questionable material is safe for food.
  • You will see this symbol on materials other than plastic.
  • If your plastic container doesn’t have a food-safe symbol, then the sales literature or packaging should state that it’s food-grade.
  • If food-grade, container may be marked USDA or FDA approved

The Safest Plastic For Food

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, All seven plastic resin numbers are safe for food contact if they are correctly manufactured and used under the right conditions. Typically, food numbers 1, 2, 4, and 5 are considered to be the “most” food safe.

The most commonly used plastic for food, including long-term food storage, is High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE), Resin Symbol #2.

Chart #2 Food Safety Facts of 7 Food-grade Plastic Containers

#1 PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) Only use PET once. Keeping away from heat may release antimony into water. PET becomes porous as it ages, collecting germs and toxins that cannot be washed off
(high-density polyethylene)
Considered safe with a low risk for leaching chemicals
#3 PVC (polyvinyl chloride)Contain phthalates (BPA),
When manufactured produces:
DEHA (di(2ethylhexyl)adipate)
Ethylene dichloride
Vinyl chloride
Keep away from heat
(low density polyethylene)
Considered Safe with low risk of leaching chemicals
#5 PP (polypropylene)Considered safe with a low risk of leaching chemicals. Microwave-safe PP is controversial
Contain Styrene and Benzene that may leach when heated
Made from any of the six plastics or other. Look for BPA free-food-safe #7 containers
Strange Days On Planet Earth PDF

5 Tips For Using Food-grade Plastic 

There are steps you can take to minimize the possibility of toxic chemicals leaching from containers to food.

Have you ever left a water bottle in a hot car and taken a big swig? That nasty taste is the bottle shedding chemicals into your water.

I’m the worst when it comes to defrosting in a microwave with the PVC plastic wrap and polystyrene bottom still holding the meat.

  1. Don’t use in the microwave (even if microwave-safe)
  2. Don’t store plastic containers in or around the heat
  3. Don’t use harsh detergents to clean as this may cause the plastic to release chemicals
  4. Be on the safe side and only use plastic containers with #2, #4, and #5 to store food (#1 is not reusable), #7 is suitable for water bottles if BPA-free
  5. Don’t use food-grade plastics that are manufactured for industrial use

Orange 5 Gallon Home Depot Buckets; Are They Food Grade?

I love the Home Depot “homer” buckets, I use them for tools, to garden, paint, and clean. I’ve probably got twenty of these in my garage and scattered around the house, but are they food-grade?

The Orange Home Depot buckets are made from HDPE number 2 resin, the best plastic for long-term food storage, but they are not food-safe. The orange dye and the solvents used in manufacturing are toxic and should not come in contact with food or drink.

  • The Home Depot sells white food-grade buckets
  • Food-grade buckets tend to be white
  • You could use the orange buckets for dry food storage if you lined them with sealed mylar bags
  • Don’t put potable water or alcohol in the orange buckets unless you want to drink the chemicals; the same goes for dried foods without a liner

Which Plastics Are Safe For Food Storage? click here

Plastic Resin Identification Codes click here

National Geographic’s Strange Days On Planet Earth: Smart Plastics Guide click here

Plastic-recycling.org Plastic Resin Identification Codes printable PDF

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