Is It Safe To Keep Food In Stainless Steel Containers? Pros And Cons

 It is one of the most common materials found in the kitchen. Pots, pans, utensils, and appliances are all made with this durable metal. While it is safe to cook with stainless steel, is it safe to keep food in stainless steel containers? We have the cold, hard facts!

Food-grade stainless steel containers, graded at 304 or 316, are a safe and dependable option for food storage. However, it is important to avoid using products that are scratched or have signs of corrosion. Moreover, highly acidic foods, as well as dishes with large quantities of salt, are best kept in glass or plastic containers.

Finally, when storing food in stainless steel, allow it to fully cool before transferring it. This will prevent sticking.

Pros And Cons Of Stainless Steel Containers

Stainless Steel Benefits

When proper food-grade products are purchased, stainless steel is a fantastic option for food storage. It is sleek, durable, reasonably priced and it provides optimal heat distribution. It is also safe for use in the oven, on the stovetop, and even in the freezer!

The material is non-porous and there is little concern for leaching unless the container incurs damage or certain products are prepared in the containers. 

The Nickel Institute recommends investing in stainless steel products that contain a small portion of nickel. “Nickel-containing stainless steels do not alter the food’s taste or color, do not contaminate the food and critically provide exceptional performance for maintaining food safety by being easily and effectively cleaned and sterilized.” 

This also cuts back on the instance of rust. Best of all, it is stain and smudge-proof. This is a stark difference from the plastic containers that will many times take on the color of the sauce being stored within them.

Stainless Steel Downfalls

The main downfall is that stainless steel products are NEVER safe for the microwave. The food will need to be placed in a different container that is safe for microwave use in order to heat.

Additionally, when used for cooking, many food types will adhere to the surface. This is especially true of certain meats and cheeses. 

It is also inefficient at conducting heat. This means that it takes much longer to warm up than other types of cookware. Because of this, some companies include metals like copper and aluminum to remedy this issue.

These can transfer into your food so make sure to check the composition of the container prior to purchase. Thus, look for varieties that do not contain these components.

The final issue with stainless steel is that it does not react well with highly acidic foods. This includes tomatoes, citrus fruits, vinegar-based sauces, seafood, and dairy products. Unfortunately, when these items are cooked and stored in this environment, a small amount of contamination can occur that will lead to changes in the color and flavor of the food.

For that reason, these containers are not ideal for making or storing dishes that have a high prevalence of these ingredients. 

Types Of Food Grade Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is an alloy. This means that it is a mixture of metals. In terms of food preparation and storage, the main components to note are nickel and chromium. 

High chromium levels will help to prevent oxidation and allow the metal to fare better in environments where salt content is high. In case you didn’t know, long-term exposure to salt can damage stainless steel. In comparison, the nickel prevents the instance of rust.

The higher the nickel content, the less of a worry that this type of degradation will occur. 

There are a wide array of grades of this metal, but the majority of food-grade stainless steel is either a 300 or 400 series. The three main types of this material sold for food-related purposes are 304, 316 and 430. Here are the differences.

304 Stainless Steel (18/8 And 18/10)

304 is the most prevalent kind of food-grade stainless steel. It comes at either 18/8 or 18/10 ratings. These numbers represent the percentage of chromium and nickel present in the stainless steel. 18/8 contains 18% chromium and 8% nickel while 18/10 has 10% nickel.  

If you want to keep your food safe in stainless steel containers, purchasing this grade of metal is an ideal choice.

316 Stainless Steel (16/10)

The 316 variety is the second most common type of this alloy and it does come with a slightly higher price tag. It contains 16% chromium and 10% nickel. It also contains 2% molybdenum.

This makes it more durable and less susceptible to corrosion. It will also enhance the mixture’s ability to withstand high salt environments. 

430 Stainless Steel (18/0)

This type of stainless steel features only a negligible amount of nickel (usually 0.5% or less). Manufacturers replace this with manganese. What this means is that scratches are much more detrimental because there is a much greater risk of rust. 

Users will also notice that without the presence of nickel, the material will be magnetized.  This option is much more affordable but will have a substantially shorter life span.

What To Look For In Stainless Steel Containers To Keep Food Safe

In terms of stainless steel food storage containers, there are a few key features to consider prior to purchase. The first is the grade of stainless steel. 304 is the most popular for a reason. It has a solid mixture of chromium and nickel.

However, the 316 is another fantastic choice. These grades make it durable and less resistant to scratches. This can allow you to safely prepare items, prior to storage, with a low concern for leaching.

Next, convenience is paramount when purchasing any type of kitchen product. Look for options that are advertised as safe for dishwasher, fridge, and freezer use. This will apply to all food grade stainless steel products.

If it is not listed, then it is likely not a food grade material. Finally, look for options that come equipped with BPA-free, airtight lids. The FineDine Premium Stainless-Steel Mixing Bowls are a spectacular choice.

This set of five 304 grade nesting bowls comes with matching translucent HDPE plastic lids. This is the same food-grade material that your milk jug is made from!

For those looking for a smaller option, the JaceBox Stainless Steel Lunch Containers are wonderful for meal prepping and food on the go! They are also 304 grade and they have snap-on, leak-proof lids. 

How To Ensure That Food Stays Safe In Stainless Steel Containers

Food Choice Matters

First and foremost, pay attention to what you are putting in the container! As mentioned, highly acidic foods and those with an increased salt content will not fare well in this type of vessel. 

Thus, stick with glass Pyrex dishes for your spaghetti sauces, fruit salads and leftover fish. Conversely, dry products will do fantastically in this type of environment! Flour, sugar, rice and other shelf-stable products are perfect candidates for stainless steel. 

Avoid Metal On Metal

Second, treat your stainless steel kitchenware with care. Metal against metal is never a good idea. Thus, avoid steel wool for scrubbing and conduct slicing on a cutting board. While preparing foods with a hand mixer is likely safe, there is a risk of scratching.

If reactive ingredients are added to a damaged container, leaching can occur. If you have a plastic mixing bowl available, it is advised that users err on the side of caution if food storage is the main intent for the dish.

Additionally, food adhering to the pan is a major issue with these types of products. The reason that sticking occurs is that the metal has tiny pores across the surface that shrink when heated. Unfortunately, this means that it grips onto the food and causes it to stick.

When this occurs, many folks will try to scrape the food off of the pan. RESIST THIS URGE! There are simple steps to prevent this issue from occurring.

How To Prevent Food From Adhering To The Pan

First, season the pan prior to cooking. This will create a barrier between the metal and the pan. Olive oil is a simple and easy choice for accomplishing this step. Moreover, preheat the pan before adding the food and cook items on medium heat.

Finally, if sticking does occur, remember that patience is a virtue. Allow the pan to soak and gently scrub the area with a cotton cloth after the food has had time to saturate.

Look For Stainless Steel Containers With Simple Designs To Keep Food Safe

Next, design matters. Intricate metalwork can be very appealing and quite eye-catching. However, certain configurations require chemicals to adhere various pieces together. These additives can impact your food. Simplicity is best in terms of food storage.

Let Food Cool Before Storing It

Finally, always give your food ample time to cool, prior to transferring it to stainless steel storage containers. As mentioned, this material reacts to heat in numerous ways.

Not only can sticking occur, but the exterior of the dish will heat up as well. This can lead to accidental burns and potential issues with the glass shelves in your refrigerator.

Therefore, follow the two-hour rule. Let the food cool at room temperature for less than two hours. Then move it to the stainless steel container and store food in the fridge or freezer.

This advice is exceptionally important if your intent is to simply transfer your stainless steel cookware directly into the fridge. 

Final Thoughts

Stainless steel is a versatile material that is ideal for cooking and storing food. However, if you will need to heat the contents inside, it will require an alternate dish.

Moreover, if you choose to place hot food in the stainless steel food container to keep it warm, always cover the exterior with a dish towel when transporting it. Furthermore, to avoid damage to surfaces, place the hot metal on the stovetop or lay down a towel or hot pad before setting it down.

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