Top tips on how to store food without plastic

Many people are trying to avoid using plastic in their everyday life as much as possible. Part of that journey is working out how to store food without using plastic. Plastic is everywhere in our food system. It is used in growing, harvesting, processing, packaging and storing our food. 

Options for keeping your food out of plastic is limited, and going against the common and popular culture isn’t easy, but when it comes to changing our plastic usage, it is still a good idea.

Please read: This information is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to treat, diagnose or prevent any disease. We encourage you to make your own health care decisions in partnership with a qualified health care professional.

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Why you would want to avoid storing food in plastic

Plastic has many benefits, and that is why it seems to have taken over our lives. Plastic is

  • Cheap to produce
  • Can be air tight, or made to breathe
  • Seals well just by applying heat
  • Prevents freezer burn
  • Is recyclable
  • Comes in many types and forms

However, there is a dark side to all this plastic. Many of us lament about the plastic waste, it takes an eon to decompose, gets in to our oceans and our animals eat it and die. It affects us humans too.

Plastic can affect our hormones when consumed and can’t really be recycled – really it can only be down cycled. And while it might be cheap to produce, some would argue that the environmental cost of it is simply too high to continue at the rate we are.

Single use plastic vs multi use plastic

The biggest contributor to the plastic avalanche of pollution and waste is overwhelmingly the single use plastic items.

Plastic packaging, plastic water bottles, plastic cling wrap and zip lock bags are all mostly used only once, and a large portion of this is not recycled so it ends up in the environment as pollution.

I personally, would argue that multi-use plastic has its place in the modern world, but it should be of very good quality, and designed to last for many many years.

When it comes to food storage, if you cannot avoid using plastic totally in your food storage, you should try and follow these tips to minimize your own exposure to plastic toxins, as well as minimize your environmental impact.

Some food safe packaging containers that you already have can be re-used rather than thrown away and replaced with glass or metal. If you already have plastic food storage containers, try and replace them as they break rather than replacing them all at once and throwing out the containers that you have. This can help ease the transition to zero plastic food storage as the process can be expensive and it avoids wasting the plastic you already have.

If your concern is with storing food touching the plastic (valid concern), try and find non-food storage uses for your plastic containers, or donate them to someone that will use them for something. This honors the sacrifice made to produce these items, they already exist, so don’t waste them.

How to store food without using plastic

There are several material options for storing food without using plastic. There are pros and cons to each of the options

Aluminum Foil

Aluminum foil is easily accessible to most people. It is generally regarded as safe to use on non-acidic foods. It is also a single use product, and it doesn’t hold up well to long term use in the freezer as it develops holes easily, so it is not an ideal solution.

Glass

Glass containers come in many shapes and forms. From re-using an old jam jar, or preserving jars, to buying purpose made stackable glass storage options.

Glass is inert (doesn’t react to food), and can be used to store most items, and can even go in the freezer with some modifications which you can read about here.

The issue with glass is that it is heavy, often round in shape (so not economic use of space) and can shatter if dropped, that is why I like these strong stackable, square ones.

 

Silicone

Silicone is newer to the scene. It is made from silica found in sand, and it biodegrades faster than most plastics.

Silicone is stretchy, difficult to break and does not react to food placed in it. It makes a great substitute for ziploc bags, a freezer bag or cling film.

 

Fabric

Plain cotton fabric can be used to wrap bread to keep it fresh for a few days. Fabric can also be turned into beeswax food wraps to keep things fresh for longer. You can read how to make your own beeswax wraps here.

Metal

Metal is a very big term, covering a range of materials. Usually, when we are talking food storage we are talking food grade stainless steel. Stainless steel does not react with foods, it will last a lifetime, it can be sterilized, stacked and comes in a wide range of shapes and sizes.

It can be difficult to get and air tight seal on some metal containers, so often their lid contains some sort of plastic or rubber to help with the seal.

The best way to store food without plastic

When deciding on the best way to store food without plastic context plays a big role in deciding the winner.

For wrapping and storing cheese, bread, crackers, nuts and sandwiches a beeswax wrap is the best option, you can make them yourself or buy them here.

For storing dry goods, preserves or leftovers or stock, large preserving jars or a mason jar is ideal.

For keeping meat in the freezer without plastic, my favourite option is metal steamer pans. Read here to see why I think these are the best option to freeze meat without plastic.

How to store food without plastic

Once you have decided on what food storage containers you are going to use, make sure they are clean and dry before putting your food in them, and moisture will ruin dry goods quickly and cause them to grow mold.

If you are freezing something in your non-plastic food storage containers, be sure to allow plenty of room for the food (or liquid) to expand as it freezes.

Most plastic food container options will bend and expand with the food as it freezes, but non-plastic options like metal and glass do not have this property and will split or shatter under this pressure. If you are using a glass jar, be sure to allow an inch of head space BELOW the shoulders of the jar. Read here for more on how to freeze liquids in mason jars safely.

Be sure to date and label your containers well, and stack them carefully to avoid breakage.

Long term storage of bulk foods – preparing a food stash

If you are looking to store your food long term without using plastic, your options are limited. The usual method is to store large volumes of dry goods in plastic food safe, air tight buckets or in mylar bags with oxygen eaters. Before plastic, people used metal or wooden barrels or drums to store food. Both work well as long as they are kept dry. Metal is more likely to be rodent and air tight, but if it rusts it will ruin your food.

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How to store food without plastic wrap

Plastic wrap, or cling wrap, cling film or gladwrap is a common way to quickly seal and store many food items. Finding a replacement for plastic wrap does depend on what you are using it for.

To cover the top of a bowl for left overs you can use a silicon sheet or bowl lid like this one or this one.

To wrap sandwiches or cheese a beeswax wrap is ideal.

To freeze something a food storage container with a good lid that seals is best.

How to store frozen food without plastic

Freezers have a particular set of challenges when it comes to storing food without plastic.

Freezer burn is the main concern with freezing food. Any air that can get in to the food will cause it to dry out and deteriorate quickly. Often a plastic bag or plastic wrap is used to get around this, but when you are freezing food without plastic, your main challenge is keeping the air out.

Finding an airtight container that doesn’t use plastic pretty much leaves you with canning jars, glass jars with a plastic lid, or a silicon seal, a silicone bag or or reusable food wrap.

Aluminum foil will work if it is double layered and only for a short time as it will get holes rubbed in it quickly in a freezer where you are rummaging for items.

The upside to using a stainless steel container is that they are stackable, but getting a good seal at the top is difficult, you can try adding a layer of water to cover the food to keep the freezer burn at bay.

For more information about freezing food without plastic, read here.

How to store food in fridge without plastic

Glass jars and silicone bowl covers are your friend in the fridge. Place your leftovers in a ceramic or glass bowl and pop an upturned plate or silicone lid over the top.

Reuse glass jam jars for smaller things, and invest in some stackable glass food storage for making the most of your fridge shelf space.

A paper bag works well for things that don’t need to retain their moisture like mushrooms or onions. Your vegetable draw and crisper drawer in your fridge are your friend, they are designed to be more humid to stop your fruit and veggies from drying out without having to have them in a plastic produce bag.

An open container can often be sealed with a silicone seal, or the contents poured into a smaller container and sealed that way.

Learning to store food without using plastic is a process that will take time, with trial and error and some investment in to options and items that are working well for you. Do you have plastic free ideas for storing food that you already use? Let me know in the comments below.

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