In the mad dash to clean up after dinner to make it to your daughter’s piano recital or your son’s basketball playoff game, you may find yourself without ziplock bags or a clean Tupperware container on hand. This can lead to some creative solutions, but it is important to think twice before using certain materials. For those wondering “are trash bags safe for food storage?”, we have a hefty list of details that you will be glad to know!
Plastic products are safe for food storage if they have a food-grade classification. Garbage bags do not fall in this category. Why? These products include dangerous chemicals and fragrances. These additives can contaminate your food, which can be detrimental to your health.
Instead, use plastic products that are solely made of polyethylene and polypropylene. These materials are sturdy, temperature resistant, and are unlikely to contaminate food products. In order to determine this key piece of information, simply look for the number printed within the recycling symbol on the container.
It will correspond with one of the seven categories listed below. The optimal numbers include 2, 4, and 5.
- Food Storage Recommendations For Plastic Products
- Types Of Food Grade Plastic
- The Top Plastics That Are Safe For Food Storage
- Not All Trash Bag Components Are Safe For Food Storage
- Safe Food Storage Alternatives
- Final Thoughts
- Related Guides
Food Storage Recommendations For Plastic Products
Plastic is plastic, right? WRONG. There is a colossal difference between GLAD’s selection of plastic bags that are made to store your food versus their line of trash bags that are designed to hold your garbage. The difference — food-grade plastic.
Food Grade Plastic Versus Trash Bags — Safe Food Storage
“For a material to be certified as food-grade, it must go through extensive testing by a regulatory agency, like the USDA, before being approved. Testing focuses on how the material reacts to the composition of the food as well as how it handles different storage conditions such as changing temperatures.”
Plastics that have not gone through proper regulations may contain dangerous chemicals, like Bisphenol A (otherwise known as BPA). Additionally, many trash bags also have air fresheners and deodorizers built into the material. When in contact with food, these various chemicals and additives can leach into your consumable products.
This is especially true of foods that are high in oil and fat. If digested, it can lead to a slew of health issues. Hence, trash bags are not safe for food storage.
However, these plastics are perfectly safe to touch. This makes them ideal receptacles for items intended for disposal.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “the use of plastic trash bags for food storage or cooking is not recommended because they are not food-grade plastic and chemicals from them may be absorbed into the food.” In fact, if you take the time to read the back of any trash bag box, it states this same fact.
Types Of Food Grade Plastic
There are six types of food-grade plastic. Each one has specific recommendations for use. These materials are signified by a number code. Here is what you need to know.
Code 1: PETE / PET
PETE or PET is polyethylene terephthalate. Salad dressing, ketchup and grated parmesan cheese are all stored in plastic containers made from this sturdy plastic. While spectacular for room temperature and refridgeration storage, when exposed to high temperatures, these products are prone to warp and contaminate the food inside. Therefore, do not wash and reuse these items.
Code 2: HDPE
HDPE is high-density polyethylene. This packaging is lightweight, and yet, very durable. This makes it perfect for storing large quantity products like juice and milk. You can heat these plastics for short periods of time. They also have a low likelihood of contamination risk.
These qualities also make this plastic perfect for heavy-duty trash bags. However, these trash bags are still not safe for food storage due to their added components.
Code 3: PVC
PVC is polyvinyl chloride. When you hear the acronym “PVC”, the next word that comes to mind is “pipe”. That is because this product is readily used in aquaponics and gardening systems as well as water transport structures in homes and businesses.
This is a product that does not bode well in extreme temperatures, especially in the cold. Thankfully, most of our piping is underground or within household walls, so the concern is minimal.
In terms of food storage, it is less common but still used for storing products like gum.
Code 4: LDPE
LDPE is low-density polyethylene. This product is primarily found in ziplock bags as well as the produce bags at the grocery store. It is also be used to make trash bags. It can be heated and there is a minimal concern of food contamination. However, limit heat exposure to short periods of time. This is due to the thin design.
Code 5: PP
PP is polypropylene. This is one of the safest plastic products for food storage. Bottle caps, butter containers, K-cup pods, and microwaveable meals utilize this type of material because it has a low risk of leaching, even when exposed to extremely high temperatures.
However, this product is another one that is not ideal for freezer use. It can become very brittle and thus, can break with little impact. This, in turn, could compromise the safety of the food.
Code 6: PS
PS is polystyrene. This is a component of styrofoam and disposable silverware. It is not safe to heat due to contamination concerns. Interestingly enough though, brands like Maruchan and Nissin, sell microwaveable ramen noodles in PS styrofoam cups. They instruct consumers to add boiling water to the cup but to never microwave it.
Unfortunately, many assume that because it can withstand boiling water, that it can handle the microwave as well. This is not the case. It is also why it is so important to double-check materials and follow explicit instructions prior to cooking.
Code 7: Other
The vague nature of this code should give you cause for concern. Polycarbonate is one of the main plastics used in this category and it does contain BPA. Therefore, avoid products with this code for food storage.
The Top Plastics That Are Safe For Food Storage
While all six plastics are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, codes 2, 4, and 5, products made with polyethylene and polypropylene, are your safest bet for food storage. They are durable, can withstand heat, and have a low instance of leaching. In order to determine which plastic comprises the container, you intend to use, simply look for the recycling triangle on the packaging. Within this recognizable symbol is a number. This corresponds with one of the codes listed above.
Not All Trash Bag Components Are Safe For Food Storage
Polyethylene is the main component of trash bags. This can range from low density (LDPE) to high density (HDPE) variations. This is based on the thickness of the bag, with “heavy-duty” products landing on the HDPE side of the spectrum. However, don’t let this fool you into thinking that they are safe for food storage! They have additional components that can be detrimental to your health.
This is due to the fact that many of companies are making strides to be environmentally friendly. What this means is that while the main plastic used in their trash bags is PE, they also use recycled plastic to create their products. If you use this product in the manner that the manufacturer intended (to hold trash and then discard), then there is no safety concern in using non-food-grade plastic. Due to this, there is also no need to list the components that make up the product.
Thus, trash bags, no matter what the brand, are not safe for food storage. This includes Hefty, Glad, Kirkland, Uline, Simplehuman, Up & Up, and Great Value, among many others. Unless directly specified on the box that a product is made for food storage, avoid using it in that capacity.
Safe Food Storage Alternatives
The main material used in food storage and preservation is plastic. However, there are many other fantastic alternatives to consider. Depending on the food type, heavy-duty aluminum foil can be another option. However, this will not work for foods with high acid content.
Alternatively, glass is a reusable option that will fare well in both the oven and the freezer and will work with any food. In addition, another environmentally-friendly storage solution is Bee’s Wrap. This product is made with organic cotton, plant oils, tree resin, and as the name implies, beeswax. It is free of plastic and silicone, washable, and biodegradable. For those looking for a natural option, this is a fantastic solution!
Health-conscious individuals are particular about what they put into their bodies. Surprisingly though, there is little focus on the containers that store those foods. Packaging matters, so pay attention to it!
What does the writing actually say on the box? In the case of trash bags, the name clearly describes the intended use. It is bags for trash. This should make for an easy conclusion — trash bags are not safe for food storage.
Safe food storage begins with the container and the state of the food. If stored properly and prior to the expiration date, products can remain safe for consumption for extended periods of time.
However, always confirm the materials before assuming the safety of the product. Furthermore, remember to follow proper refrigeration and freezer guidelines for your food.
The FDA advises that you “keep the refrigerator temperature at or below 40° F (4° C). The freezer temperature should be 0° F (-18° C).” However, do not neglect to confirm recommendations for the containers as well. For instance, while fantastic for food storage, polypropylene is terrible at extreme low temperatures. Thus, use a polyethylene product instead.
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My name is Keren Tayler. I am a stay-at-home mama to three lovely girls, Sarah + Rachel + Hannah. Prior to becoming a mom, I had a successful career in the accounting field, steps away from becoming a CPA. I decided to give up on my career in order to raise my own kids (as opposed to letting a nanny do it, no judgment here :)) I learned a lot and I love sharing it with other moms. Along the way, I also became a Certified Food Handler.