Not a lot of students really consider the difference between glass and plastic storage when they’re moving out for the first time, or even when they’re purchasing a new set of containers after a couple of years. Plastic seems like the easy choice: it’s cheaper, lighter, and you can chuck it when it gets a little too gross. But don’t rule out glass containers! While a little more expensive, glass containers last longer, are easier to clean, and are a better long-term investment.
Plastic is the easiest, cheapest option for food storage, but not always the smartest. While plastic containers are great for cold storage, travelling around, or for bringing food to things like potlucks (so you can leave it behind), when it comes to storing hot food and using to re-heat last night’s dinner, you want to steer clear.
Some plastic, namely those with the resin codes 3 and 7, may contain the chemical Bisphenol-A, or BPA. BPA has been used in polycarbonate plastics since the 1960s, and unfortunately, when heated it can seep into your food and drinks from plastic storage containers. The plastic when continually exposed for high temperatures can break down over time, allowing BPA to leech into your food. BPA is “safe” at low the low levels that tend to seep into your food from microwaving, but some prefer to avoid the chemical in general just in case. By using BPA-free plastics or glass containers, and my re-heating your food in a bowl or separate, non-plastic container, you can avoid BPA quite easily.
Glass is generally safer than plastic when it comes to food storage. You can heat and re-heat glass containers over and over without worrying about any chemical leeching into your food, and they’re more durable, so your containers won’t be dyed or smell like food residue after a while of use. When it does come time to retire your glass containers, they’re easier to recycle than their plastic counterparts, so you can rest easy knowing you’re still being eco-friendly.
Containers made of glass are also easier to clean, and tend to be dishwasher-safe. They won’t get warped after continually re-heating, and are good for both cold and hot food. If you’re thinking of getting yourself a set of glass containers, look for thick-walled, clear containers with locking lids. Also consider getting square rather than circular containers for easier stacking and storing in the cupboard and fridge.
It’s up to you what kind of food storage is best for your life-style. Plastic is ideal for newer students, who have a small budget but a lot of things to get before setting out on their own. In this case, definitely get BPA-free plastic containers, and re-heat your food in ceramic or glass bowls. If you have the budget, tend to cook a lot, and are concerned about the chemicals, invest in glassware. It’ll last you longer, look nicer, and is generally safer.
– Emily Hotton