Are your plastic meal prep storage containers unsafe?

Posted On Mar 06, 2023 |

Because plastic storage comes with some health risks, here's how to get the MOST health benefits out of your meal prep efforts.

Are your plastic meal prep storage containers unsafe? 

You know those social media “meal-prep” pics of food containers that are stacked up all perfectly in people’s refrigerators?

Well, they may not be not as great as you think.

Yes, they might look great (or “oddly satisfying,” as they say on social media) … but those plastic containers may actually do more harm than good.

Here's what you need to keep in mind. 

The Dangers of Chemical Leaching:

Unfortunately, plastic storage can cause unwanted chemicals to seep into your food, which pretty much defeats the purpose of healthy eating!

Bisphenol A (BPA), for example, is commonly found in plastic containers and has been linked to hormone disruption and reproductive problems. Another chemical, phthalates, can interfere with the body's endocrine system and may also contribute to developmental issues in children. Over time, repeated exposure to these chemicals through plastic container use can increase the risk of health problems.

Different types of plastic containers  differ in terms of safety.

Understanding the different types of plastic containers and their potential risks can help you make informed choices when selecting containers for meal prep storage.

High-density polyethylene (HDPE) is considered one of the safest types of plastic and is often used for milk jugs and food storage containers. On the other hand, polycarbonate (PC) plastics contain BPA and are considered less safe. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is commonly used for water bottles and other single-use containers but can break down over time, potentially leaching harmful chemicals into food.

Learn the plastic labeling codes found on containers to determine their safety.

Nowadays plastic containers are labeled with codes to help consumers understand what type of plastic it is made from. These codes are typically found on the bottom of the container and are represented by a number within a recycling symbol. 

Codes 1, 2, 4, and 5 are generally considered the safest for food storage, while codes 3, 6, and 7 are considered less safe. It's important to note that even containers with "safer" codes can still potentially leach chemicals into food if they are heated, microwaved, or scratched.

Alternatives to plastic containers may be safer.

Glass containers are a popular choice for meal prep because they are reusable, durable, and non-toxic. They are also microwave and dishwasher safe. However, glass containers can be heavy, breakable, and can be more expensive than plastic containers.

Stainless steel containers are another option that is durable, non-toxic, and long-lasting. They are also lightweight and dishwasher safe. However, stainless steel containers can be more expensive than plastic containers and are not microwave safe.

Another alternative is silicone containers which are lightweight, microwave safe, and easy to store. However, silicone containers are not as durable as glass or stainless steel and can sometimes retain food odors.

Best Practices for Safe Storage

To help you get the MOST health benefits out of your meal prep, and to minimize the risks, I’m going to summarize the dos and don’ts to help make sure you don’t unknowingly sabotage all your efforts.

TIP 1. NEVER reuse plastic water bottles or other plastic containers that food comes in (like yogurt containers). These might save you money, but they often contain harmful substances. Put them straight into the recycling bin!

TIP 2. Plastic containers that have the recycling codes 1, 2, 4, and 5 on the bottom are generally considered safe as long as they are in good shape. Plus, they’re cheap, unbreakable, and light (a big plus if you’re taking them to and from work).

It is best to handwash plastic containers with gentle soap and water rather than putting them in the dishwasher, which can damage the plastic and increase the likelihood of chemical leaching. 

Heating these containers shortens their lifespan, so the moment they start to show signs of wear (with cracks, scratches, or discoloration), send them out for recycling.

(IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: many researchers are now questioning whether even plastics labeled “BPA-free” are safe, and they are studying their long-term health effects!)

TIP 3. Think about making the switch to alternative containers, preferably glass.

With glass, you don’t have to worry about plastic residue. Plus it can safely go into the freezer and microwave. And because glass containers last forever, in the long run, you will save money.

If you’re not ready for the up-front expense of replacing all your plastic with glass, consider using glass or stainless steel containers only for acidic foods like tomato sauce or citrus fruits, as these can cause chemicals to leach from plastic containers more easily.

TIP 4. Compromise! If you bring your prepped meals to work and want a lighter/less breakable option, store your food in plastic and when it’s time to heat it, transfer it into a glass container that you keep at work for heating. That way you get the best of both worlds.

Here’s how I handle my own food storage: I swapped out all my plastic containers for glass a few years ago and it was so worth it. The only problem was the difficulty in finding glass containers that had glass tops. So I purchased glass containers with the safest, most non-toxic plastic tops I could find. I never put them in the microwave for long periods of time, and I keep the top on loosely.

In conclusion, being mindful of plastic container safety when meal prepping is crucial for protecting our health. While it may seem daunting to make changes to long-standing habits, the benefits of safer food storage practices are numerous. Prioritizing safety can help us feel more confident in the overall healthfulness of our meal prep. 

By taking these simple steps, you can enjoy the convenience and benefits of meal prep without compromising you health!


Here are some informative websites that go into more detail on the concepts explained in this post:

1. Food Packaging Forum - Provides information on food packaging materials and chemicals, including plastics, and their potential health risks.

2. Environmental Working Group - Provides information on food packaging safety, including plastics and their potential health risks.

3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - Provides information on food safety, including safe food storage practices.

4. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health - Provides information on chemicals in food packaging and their potential health effects.

5. Article on BPA-free plastics

Categories: Nourish