Food Safe Plastics: Which Plastic Containers Are Safe for Storing Food and Water?

Whether you want to store last night’s leftovers or stockpile food and water for emergencies, it’s important that you use food-safe containers. Plastic containers which are not food safe can leach chemicals into your food, potentially causing health issues later down the line.

Here’s what you need to know about food-safe plastics for storing food and water, including food-grade buckets and water containers.

What Makes a Plastic Safe or Unsafe for Food?

In the United States, the FDA is responsible for regulating “Food Contact Substance” (FCS) safety. The regulations ensure that any surface that comes in contact with food is non-toxic. This includes all the materials used during manufacturing as well as packaging. Other countries have similar regulations.

If plastic packaging has been deemed “safe,” it will have the food safe symbol on it.

Unfortunately, the FDA doesn’t test plastics to see if they are safe or not. They rely on manufacturers’ information, and many plastic chemicals haven’t been tested to determine if they are harmful. (1, 2)

International Food Safe symbol
Food Safe symbol

Resin Identification Codes (aka Recycling Number)

The Resin Identification Code (RIC) is the little number in a triangle that you will see on most plastic packages. This number lets you know what plastic the container is made from.

A lot of people mistakenly believe that the RIC number tells you whether a plastic is safe for food or not. This is not the case. For example, many food containers are made of plastic #2 (HDPE). But many non-food grade containers (such as buckets or gas cans) are also made from plastic #2.

BPA and Plastic Packaging

Regarding plastic packaging chemicals, Bisphenol A – or BPA – gets the most attention. Numerous studies have found that BPA may leach into food or water and cause health effects like endocrine disorders, heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, fetal development problems, and cancers. (3, 4)

Plastics containing BPA are listed as safe under FDA regulations. However, because BPA is associated with many health risks, plastics containing BPA won’t make it on most food-safe plastic lists.

Just because plastic doesn’t contain BPA doesn’t necessarily mean it is safe. The chemicals used in BPA-free containers, such as BPS and BPF, may be just as harmful. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the many other chemicals in plastic that could leach into your food or water. (6)

The bottom line?

No plastic may be completely safe for food and water. Choose glass containers whenever possible. When you do have to use plastic containers (it’s hard to avoid plastic!), choose ones that are:

  • Labeled as Food Safe
  • Don’t contain harmful chemicals (at least any of the ones we know about now)
  • Are least likely to leach chemicals

List of Food Safe Plastics

Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE)

  • Recycling Code: #1
  • Contains BPA: No
  • Used for: Soda bottles, takeout containers, salad dressing bottles, peanut butter containers…

PETE is one of the most common food plastics and is generally considered safe. However, there have been reports of PETE water bottles leaching chemicals – especially when exposed to high temperatures. At around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, levels of chemicals seem to be safe. But, when temperatures get higher, dangerous chemicals start leaching into the contents faster.

If you live somewhere very hot, it might not be smart to use PET plastics for food storage. As a general rule, PET plastic isn’t recommended for long-term water storage because it develops tiny holes as it degrades, which can leak water all over your floor. (7, 8)

High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

  • Recycling Code: #2
  • Contains BPA: No
  • Used for: Milk jugs, motor oil containers, buckets, shampoo bottles, toys, pipes…

HDPE is generally considered the best food-safe plastic. It is strong and durable, which is why it is used for items like milk jugs and buckets.

Compared to other food-safe plastics, HDPE is the least likely to leach chemicals into its contents.   However, HDPE containers eventually break down, which can be problematic if you want to store water in recycled milk jugs.

Note: HDPE is often used for non-food items like motor oil or cleaning products. It is NEVER safe to put food in an HDPE container that previously contained non-food items.

Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

  • Recycling Code: #4
  • Contains BPA: No
  • Used for: Plastic wrap, sandwich bags, squeeze bottles, plastic bags…

LDPE plastics are very flexible, often used for items like six-pack rings or squeeze bottles. This type of plastic is not associated with any health risks and isn’t likely to leach chemicals. However, it isn’t used for food or water storage because it is so flexible.

Polypropylene (PP)

  • Recycling Code: #5
  • Contains BPA: No
  • Used for: Medicine bottles, baby bottles, lunch boxes, straws, plastic bottle tops, yogurt containers, packing tape…

Compared to other plastics, polypropylene is better able to withstand heat and exposure to acids or grease. This makes it less likely to leach chemicals. If you need to store foods like tomato sauce (acidic) or vegetable oil (grease), PP containers might be the best choice.

PP plastics are generally considered microwave and dishwasher safe. There aren’t any known health issues associated with PP plastics.

Plastics NOT Safe for Food

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

  • Recycling Code: #3
  • Harmful Chemicals: Phthalates
  • Used for: Cling wrap, squeeze bottles, peanut butter containers…

Even though PVC plastics are labeled as “food safe” by the FDA, avoiding this type of plastic is best. It contains phthalates, a group of chemicals that can affect sex hormones. They are also associated with obesity, asthma, and congenital disabilities. (9)

Polystyrene (PS)

  • Recycling Code: #6
  • Harmful Chemicals: Styrene
  • Used for: Styrofoam

Better known as Styrofoam, polystyrene plastics are known to leach a chemical called styrene. The chemical is terrible for the environment and is associated with numerous health issues. It should be avoided and never heated.

Miscellaneous (Polycarbonate and Polylactide)

  • Recycling Code: #7 to #19
  • Harmful Chemicals: BPA
  • Used for: Plastic lids, baby bottles, wires, car parts…

Plastic codes #7-19 are used for miscellaneous plastics, including Polycarbonate (PC) and Polylactide containers. While some of these plastics may be food-safe, the problem is that you can’t be sure what’s in the plastic. Many of them might contain BPA or other harmful chemicals, and they could likely leach into your food or water.

Food Safe Buckets for Storing Food

Buckets are an excellent way to store large quantities of food. Just be warned that not all buckets are food-grade, even if made from #2 HDPE plastic.

The issue is that some manufacturers use “mold release agents” to help get the mold off the buckets. These chemicals can remain on the buckets, causing them to leach into your food. Food-grade buckets will use mold-release agents, which are also food safe, or compressed air to blow the bucket off the mold.

Where to Get Food-Grade Buckets

When buying buckets for food storage, ensure they specifically say they are food-grade. You’ll also want to ensure that any lids you get are food-grade. Look for the Food Safe symbol, or it might be marked as USDA, FDA, or NSF approved.

It’s often possible to get free buckets from local retailers, especially bakeries (see these tips on where to get free prepping supplies). Make sure you know with 100% certainty what was in the bucket. You don’t ever want to store food in buckets that may have contained cleaning supplies, motor oil, or other chemicals.

Plastic Water Storage Containers

Most plastic containers, such as soda bottles, are designed to be biodegradable; they will break down over time. While it usually takes 450 years for a plastic bottle to degrade, the bottle will develop little pin-sized holes long before this.

These holes are a significant issue if you want to store water in plastic containers: in 6-18 months, water may start leaking out of recycled plastic containers. For this reason, keeping water in recycled plastic containers is NOT recommended.

Instead, invest in some sturdier containers which are designed for water storage. These should also be labeled as Food Safe and have never contained anything but food or water.

Read our review of WaterBrick storage containers.

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  1. I have done a lot of research.
    I have seen contradictory information regarding the safety of :
    All Bpa Free- SAN Plastic (Styrene Acrylonitrile resin # 7)and
    ABS plastic – Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene (ABS HI121H)
    Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

  2. I have done a lot of research.
    I have seen contradictory information regarding the safety of :
    All Bpa Free- SAN Plastic (Styrene Acrylonitrile resin # 7)and
    ABS plastic – Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene (ABS HI121H)
    Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

  3. I have some older Rubbermaid containers (pre 2012 – #5 PP) I use to store my oatmeal, walnuts and almonds in (all in the same container to speed up breakfast). Can BPA leach from the plastic to the dry ingredients, or do you need a liquid to cause the leaching action?

  4. I worked in a plastics factory when I was young. I had skin issues and was hypothyroid at the age of 30!
    We used all manner of plastics and they formed different products in various molds. Some were rubbery and used for gasket type applications. Some were very hard and inflexible and opaque and some were clear and colored for camera flashes (back in the day). ALL of them are toxic especially at the point of temperature high enough to begin breakdown. Plastics break down at low temps. Your #2 jugs and smaller bottles which are used for water can sit on a semi trailer in the hot sun without AC. This causes the plastic to leach into your water. I recently sent in a jug of water that I bought at a local grocery store and had it tested. It smelled funny and had a weird taste even. Sure enough the water came back tainted and I was refunded for those jugs. Now I am looking for another option.
    I normally do not purchase bottled/jugged water but where I now live my water is full of fluoride and other things. I have been buying spring water because of this. The water is tested at it’s source but it is NOT tested after it has left that source. Also water treatment plants need to do a better job. Europe has almost completely given up fluoride. It doesn’t help teeth if you drink it. It only helps if it is topical. BUT why do all toothpastes containing fluoride have a warning label? Yep…it is a toxin. Some will say that it is a small amount so it is safe. But the same people wouldn’t want dog sh*t in their food even though it won’t kill you…it may be safer than fluoride!
    All this to say….AVOID plastics of ALL kinds. Use glass, stainless steel, wood, clay crockery with a food safe coating (these glazes hold up under VERY high temps so they will not leach).
    Say NO to plastic lawn furniture, yard decor, fencing and siding if you can. These things cannot be repaired only replaced! DO NOT give your kids and grandkids plastic toys especially babies who put it in their mouths. There is so much more to say. This is already too long and I apologize. Good health to you all.

  5. Hi, just want to clarify “HDPE is often used for non-food items like motor oil or cleaning products. It is NEVER safe to put food in an HDPE container that previously contained non-food items.” Is this because there are food safe and non-food safe HDPE plastics? or because what was inside of the container previously could have left toxic residue?

    • It is because whatever was in the container could have left toxic residue. There’s really no way to clean the residue out of HDPE containers once something has been in them!

  6. It’s just my husband and I, and he doesn’t want a large amount of food stored. I do have 3-5 liter Tupperware, Rubbermaid and Anchor Hocking plastic containers that I put pasta, sugar and flour in. How can I find out how safe these containers are? Thanks!

    • Those brands use a variety of plastics. You’ll have to find the name of the specific product and ask the company which plastic they are made from and whether it is food-safe.

  7. I am new to all this. If I have sealed my food in mylar bags, I would think that I don’t need to have a “food safe” container to store those filled mylar bags in? Can’t I just put them in a regular Rubbermaid tote or something? (I will be storing in my cellar.) I am thinking food safe buckets/containers are only needed when putting a food directly into that container?

    • The extra container is to protect the Mylar bag from puncture. If you live somewhere with earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc, this is important!

      As for food-safe containers: you are likely correct in that any plastic tote will do. However, lots of chemicals are much smaller than oxygen. So, theoretically, it might be possible for dangerous chemicals from the container to get through the Mylar bag. That’s why it’s always recommended that you store food in a food-safe plastic container.

      Considering that most commercial food comes in gross plastic packaging anyway, I personally wouldn’t worry about chemicals from Rubbermaid totes 😀

  8. are food grow bags for planting vegetables like tomatoes safe to use if the information part says ” made from recycled plastic bottles”. I am worried about purchasing these grow bags. Please advise. Kate

    • Good brands of grow bags will say whether their products are made with food-safe plastic. Unfortunately, I can’t answer your question. You’ll have to call the manufacturer and ask them. Good luck!


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