We’ve tested dozens of food storage containers over the past three years, subjecting them to freezing, microwaving, and 3-foot drops onto hard floors. The Glasslock containers beat the competition every time. The flaps on the lids were the easiest to close among all of the containers we tried. The Glasslock containers stayed leak-free and survived our counter-height drop tests onto wood without breaking. They were able to keep stains and smells from lingering and looked great filled with leftovers and stacked in the fridge. The containers even nest with their lids on, so they take up less space in a cupboard than much of the competition.
The Snapware Total Solution Pyrex Glass Set works almost as well as the Glasslock containers, but they’re a little flimsier. These nestable pieces are also oven-, dishwasher-, and microwave-safe, and even cheaper if purchased at Costco. Best of all, Snapware provides a lifetime warranty for the lids, so if you break a lid, all you have to do is call the company’s customer service, and you’ll get a replacement in no time. However, these containers look just a bit tackier than the Glasslock ones, and the crevices in their silicone-bordered lids are a little harder to clean by hand.
In light of a huge European Food Safety Authority assessment of BPA that came out in 2015, we believe that plastic is safe for food container use and have updated our guide to reflect that. After a new round of tests this year, we recommend the Snapware Total Solution Plastic Food Storage 18-pc Set. This affordable set resisted leakage well in our tests, and stains and smells didn’t linger after washing. They stayed sealed in our drop tests and sustained only minor cracks on the edge of the lid after repeated drops from waist height. The containers stack well, and multiple lids fit more than one container.
The Rubbermaid TakeAlongs 40-Piece Storage Set is perfect for transporting food to parties and other functions, and since it’s so cheap, you won’t mind leaving pieces behind. This set comes in a variety of sizes ranging from ½ cup to just over 6 cups, with containers that stack well for convenient storage. They slightly hung onto scents and stains after washing, but they were some of the only cheap containers we tested that didn’t leak.
In reporting this guide, we talked with several experts: Nancy Hopkins, senior deputy food and entertaining editor for Better Homes and Gardens; Faith Durand, executive editor for The Kitchn; and Michele Thomas, the executive editor at the International Culinary Center. Additionally, we asked our science editor, Leigh Krietsch Boerner, PhD, to review recent research on the safety of plastics for this guide’s update.
We also consulted reviews from Cook’s Illustrated (plastic and glass containers; subscription required), Good Housekeeping, and The Daily Meal. Finally, we looked for highly rated sets from stores such as Target, Walmart, Macy’s, The Container Store, and Amazon.
Ganda Suthivarakom, who wrote our original guide, has spent dozens of hours researching and testing (including filling, shaking, storing, freezing, microwaving, washing, and dropping) food containers. Michael Sullivan, who contributed to our 2016 update, has reviewed electric kettles and immersion blenders, as well as other kitchen gadgets for The Sweethome. For this guide, he tested food storage containers for several months.
If you use old plastic yogurt containers or takeout containers for basic food storage, you have a few reasons to upgrade. First, you can’t see through yogurt containers, so once the lid is on, you can easily forget about what you have in there (and let it rot). Second, they aren’t leakproof, which means that transporting them to work for lunch can be a messy affair. Third, such plastic containers are not FDA-approved for repeat food storage or microwaving. Upgrading to more durable glass or plastic food storage containers means they’ll last longer and keep your food fresher.
If you already own a glass or plastic container set but want something that you can bring to potlucks and picnics, you’ll probably want to purchase a cheap plastic set that you won’t mind leaving behind.
Whether choosing glass or plastic, a good container should be airtight, leakproof, break-resistant, stain-resistant, and easy to clean and store.
“If you’re going to use a container, you want something that’s really airtight with a good seal if it’s something you plan to keep for a bit,” Nancy Hopkins, senior deputy food and entertaining editor for Better Homes and Gardens, told us. Not only will a good seal help food last longer, but leakproof construction is also important for transporting liquids. Many of the models we tested had a gasket seal around the lip and plastic hinges that snap shut so you know the container is sealed properly. A removable gasket makes cleanup easier (and will help avoid mold build up), since it can be removed and washed separately.
We followed the advice of Woman’s Day and chose square or rectangular containers over round ones in order to maximize fridge space. Nesting and stackability are nice to have, as are interchangeable lids for different sizes. We tried to pick sets with a good range from large to small, with emphasis on rectangular or square space-saving shapes; we didn’t eliminate round shapes, though, as they can be good for liquid foods.
The containers should be clear or easy to see through, so you know what you have inside without opening them. For this reason we avoided ceramic containers (they can also break easily).
Microwave vents on the lid are a silly feature we avoided; it’s just another piece to de-crud, and you’re better off removing the latches and resting the lid on top of the container in the microwave (or not using the lid at all, as some manufacturers suggest).
Resistance to stains and odors is key (you don’t want to smell or see yesterday’s lunch on your container). We also wanted something that could go in the dishwasher and the microwave, which eliminates stainless steel.
Plastic or glass storage containers range from about $3 to $10 apiece. Containers in a set are generally less expensive per piece. Although price was a factor when we made our pick, glass containers will last a long time, so price was not as big of a concern as you might think.
The sets we looked at provided the best value per piece. Keep in mind that most manufacturers include both the containers and lids in the total set count. So if a set is sold as 14 pieces or 16 pieces, you’re really getting only seven or eight containers.
To update this piece, we looked for new editorial reviews and again looked at user reviews. We didn’t find any good new glass sets to try, but did find some promising plastic sets, including these: OXO 16-Piece SNAP Plastic Container Set; Snapware Total Solution 18-pc Food Storage Set; Rubbermaid Easy Find Lid 42-Piece set; Popit Little Big Box Food Plastic Container Set; and Rubbermaid Food Storage Container with Easy Find Lids Premier Line. We tried those against our former winner, the Glasslock containers; our runner-up, the Snapware Total Solution Pyrex Glass Set; and our budget pick, the plastic Snapware 18 Piece Airtight Box Set. For 2016, we also tested these four cheap plastic sets: Ziploc Starter Variety Pack Containers, Glad MatchWare set, Reditainer Deli Food Storage Containers, and Rubbermaid 40-Piece TakeAlong Set. We also threw in some inexpensive Reditainer deli containers, the kind often used in restaurants, to see how the cheap sets compared.
For our 2016 update, our tests included filling the containers with water and shaking them, both before and after they had run through the dishwasher. To test how the containers would react to smells and stains, we filled them with tomato sauce, placed them in the freezer for three days, and reheated the sauce in the microwave for two minutes. We also froze quarter-pound portions of ground beef for two weeks to look at freezer-burn patterns. And, most fun of all, we conducted a drop test from waist height for all the picks (including our glass containers) to see if they would break or if the lids would pop off. We did our drop test on a piece of wood placed over cement in an attempt to simulate a non-bouncy kitchen floor. In our initial tests, we also tracked how long food stayed fresh in the containers by refrigerating fresh, cut strawberries for about two weeks.
After three years of long-term testing and watching prices fluctuate, we still recommend the Glasslock 18-Piece Container Set. The tight seals keep foods fresher longer and freezer burn at bay. Compared with containers from other other brands we tested, Glasslock’s locked more securely without leaking and didn’t break or pop open when dropped. These containers stack beautifully in the fridge, making it easy to see what leftovers are awaiting you. The latest-generation Glasslock pieces are oven-, microwave-, freezer-, and dishwasher-safe, and come in a variety of shapes and sizes that conveniently nest with their lids on.
The plastic top, labeled #5 for polypropylene, has a firm silicone gasket that fills the lid groove from edge to edge and provides a tight seal that doesn’t leak. Our testers found that the plastic flaps on the lids were the easiest to close compared with all of the other containers we tested. We also found that the Glasslock containers kept food fresher longer than much of the competition. In our tests last year, greens remained sprightly and cut strawberries tasted just a touch off after refrigerating for two weeks. Tomato sauce didn’t impart stains or smells to the glass or to the plastic lid. Frozen ground beef smelled and looked fine after two weeks in the container.
Impressively, the Glasslock set bounced in our drop tests with no damage to the glass container. The lids remained perfectly intact and didn’t pop off. (For kicks, we even tried dropping a Glasslock container onto cement. It broke on a corner only after three other attempts to crack the thing.) The glass Snapware set we tested didn’t fare as well in our drop tests: Some of the flaps opened, and the corner of the lid cracked.
The Glasslock set comes with square, rectangular and round containers ranging from 0.73 cup (173 ml) to 6.3 cups (1.5 L) in size. The walls are thick but perfectly see-through, and same-shape containers nest even with the lids on. Like Pyrex and Anchor Hocking, Glasslock makes its containers of tempered soda-lime glass that are oven-safe up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Glasslock will replace any faulty lids free of charge within three years from the date of purchase (regardless of where you buy them), shipping costs not included. Be sure to save your receipt as proof of purchase. The Glasslock customer service representative we spoke with said the company will replace glass containers (if they break during normal use) for up to one year. If you buy your set directly through Glasslock’s website, the company will offer a full refund within 30 days of purchase, as long as the containers are unused and in their original packaging.
If you don’t have a dishwasher, you may find gross black mold growing behind the gasket. (This seems to happen only to handwashing people.) To prevent this, take out the light-green gasket from time to time (use a butter knife to dig it out so you don’t nick it) and wash it with hot water, letting it dry completely before you reassemble.
Originally, we tested the straight-sided Glasslock containers, but we have been using the slope-sided versions the past two and half years and like them better. The empty containers nest with the lids on, so they’re great for storing in a small kitchen and for keeping the containers tidy. They all still work as well as they did when we first got them. Negative reviews regarding chipping and breakage seem to have tapered off over the past few years, so at this point we feel comfortable recommending the nesting, oven-safe version.
One of our testers nicked the gasket with a paring knife when trying to take it out for a thorough, anti-mold cleaning. (Don’t do that—use a butter knife instead.) Its performance is still the same, however.
While we like the Glasslock containers best, if their price goes up, or if you have a Costco membership, a set of Snapware Total Solution Pyrex Glass containers is the way to go. Unlike the Glasslock lids, these lids don’t have a removable gasket. Instead, the grooves around the lip of the containers are lined with a sort of firm silicone sealant where moisture can collect and grow mold. If you get grease in the groove, it can be a little difficult to clean if you’re washing by hand. However, this set has the best price of the glass options: When purchased from Costco, these are about 25 percent cheaper than the Glasslock pieces.
The Snapware glass containers don’t have the ability to nest with their lids on, but they stack well and the lids fit together nicely. Their locking flaps open and close easily and feel secure when shut. Some of the lids in this set are even interchangeable with the plastic Snapware set we also recommend in this guide. (The orange lids for the round containers and the aqua lids for the rectangle containers work for both sets.) The containers tested well across the board, and because they’re Pyrex, the bottoms are oven-safe. We were amazed that the glass container didn’t break after we dropped it at different angles four times. Snapware came in second after Glasslock in our drop tests this year: The lid cracked slightly on the corner only after the fourth drop from waist height.
When we filled several containers with water and shook them around, the seal held and they never leaked before or after dishwashing. In our tests last year, cut and whole strawberries stayed fresh looking and fresh tasting for over a week. Frozen ground beef smelled and looked fine after over two weeks in the freezer. The plastic lid didn’t retain smells or stains from our tomato sauce.
The glass Snapware Total Solution containers have a two-year warranty on the Pyrex bottoms and a limited lifetime warranty on the plastic lids. The open-and-shut hinges on the lids are just a seam in a piece of hard plastic, so they tend to break before the containers do. After more than a year of long-term testing, we’ve had only one lid hinge break, but World Kitchen customer service replaced it quickly and without questions. The lids continue to fit well after prolonged dishwashing, but we’ve noticed the silicone gasket has worn down slightly.
If you or other members of your family are prone to losing containers, or you simply prefer plastic over glass, we recommend the Snapware 18-Piece Total Solution. This set doesn’t offer the same durability as Glasslock, but it’s cheaper, lighter, and more convenient for transporting food.
The lids in the Snapware Total Solution are easy to snap closed, unlike those of the Snapware Airtight set, which were difficult to latch and repeatedly popped open. The Snapware Total Solution provided a tight seal that didn’t leak (even after a run through the dishwasher). Our testers were surprised that the containers didn’t retain any discernable food stains or smells, which wasn’t the case with the Popit containers or the Snapware Airtight set we recommended last year. The Snapware Total Solution set performed admirably in our drop tests: only a small piece on the corner of the lid broke off after the third drop.
Our testers liked the colorful gaskets on the lids, which they found easy to identify and match to the corresponding container. (And, as we mentioned earlier, the orange lids for the round containers and the aqua lids for the rectangle containers work with the glass Snapware, which is convenient if you’re buying both glass and plastic.) However, like the glass version of this set, the gaskets aren’t removable and make cleaning more difficult compared to the Glasslock set.
Snapware offers a lifetime warranty on both the plastic containers and lids if “damaged during normal household use.” If you need to make a claim, call World Kitchen and be sure to keep the container or lid, as you may be asked to return it.
If you need a dirt-cheap set that you can leave behind at picnics or potlucks, the best of those we tested was the Rubbermaid TakeAlongs 40-Piece Storage Set. This set came with more size options (ranging from ½ cup to just over 6 cups) and containers than any of the other flimsier sets we tested. While there are a lot of lids to keep track of, this set stacks well and doesn’t take up as much space in a cupboard as you’d expect.
Unlike the Ziploc and Glad containers, the Rubbermaid TakeAlongs didn’t leak before or after running through the dishwasher. It was also the only set that didn’t explode when filled with water and dropped from waist height onto wood. In our tests, the Reditainer and Glad containers shattered and splashed water and broken bits of plastic everywhere. The Rubbermaid’s lid remained sealed for two drops and the base cracked only after the fourth drop.
Like all disposable sets, the Rubbermaid TakeAlongs aren’t perfect because they’re not intended for long-term use. The plastic becomes soft when microwaved, though not as soft as the Ziploc and Glad containers. The Rubbermaid TakeAlongs also stained slightly and retained a faint tomato scent after dishwashing, which was a problem we encountered with all of the cheap plastic sets we tested. However, since this set is so affordable, has a variety of container sizes, and doesn’t leak, we’re willing to forgive these drawbacks.
Wondering which kind of material to get? Here’s how we’d decide.
But choose plastic:
We once worried about plastic, but we don’t anymore. You can find countless articles online proclaiming the evils of plastic, and this guide used to be one of them. A previous iteration of this guide warned against plasticizers (the additives used to make plastic moldable) possibly leaching out as a result of heat or wear and tear, causing endocrine disruption (hormonal changes that can be bad for your health).
However, in 2015 the European Food Safety Authority released a large-scale risk assessment that convinced us that we should stop fearing plastic. We trust the EFSA because it has more stringent rules than the US’s Food and Drug Administration, and because it conducted a comprehensive study of BPA (bisphenol A) occurrence in food-contact materials with about 3,600 results. More than 3,100 of those results came from governmental tests (not industry-funded studies), and 400 results came from academia (with, yes, some industry-funded results in the mix but not many). Finding another study of plastic that comes close to this kind of scrutiny would be hard.
As we’re fond of repeating ad infinitum, the dose makes the poison, and in the case of food-contact plastic, BPA consumed at current levels is safe: “EFSA’s comprehensive re-evaluation of bisphenol A (BPA) exposure and toxicity concludes that BPA poses no health risk to consumers of any age group (including unborn children, infants and adolescents) at current exposure levels. Exposure from the diet or from a combination of sources (diet, dust, cosmetics and thermal paper) is considerably under the safe level (the “tolerable daily intake” or TDI).” Even after lowering the amount allowed from 50 micrograms per kilogram of body weight per day down to 4 micrograms, the EFSA says, “The highest estimates for dietary exposure and for exposure from a combination of sources (called ‘aggregated exposure’ in EFSA’s opinion) are three to five times lower than the new TDI.”
None of the containers we looked at have BPA; for the most part, container manufacturers have phased it out of food-contact plastics because of the bad rap it’s received in the media. And although other, less widely studied plasticizers are still in use, particularly BPS (bisphenol S) and BPF (bisphenol F), which have been phased in to replace BPA, if they leach into food in the minuscule amounts that BPA does, we’re not worried.
And phthalates are not generally used in food-storage containers.
Even with heat, the levels of plasticizers that leach into food are very, very low. Our science editor, Leigh Krietsch Boerner, spoke to Neal Langerman, principal scientist and owner of the consulting firm Advanced Chemical Safety. He told us that the aging studies that companies do on plastics mimic about five or six years of use, but that the amount of plasticizers that would presumably be consumed is well below what would actually cause harm, according to the available data.
Ultimately, the choice between plastic and glass is a personal one based on lifestyle, family, and concerns. Nancy Hopkins, senior deputy food and entertaining editor for Better Homes and Gardens, is unfazed by the plastic debate. “We tell people to do your homework, read the directions, wash it and store it properly,” she said. “Do what’s easy and convenient for your life.” Her preferred food-storage container is the self-sealing plastic bag for its versatility and the fact that you can lose them, which can be important in a household with kids. “My two girls did not like plastic or glass containers. They wanted things they could throw away.” Michele Thomas, the executive editor at the International Culinary Center, prefers plastic because it’s, “easy to get, easy to transport, and easy to store, especially in a small apartment.”
Faith Durand, executive editor for The Kitchn, holds her food using glass. She told us, “A few years ago I got rid of my old, mismatched plastic storage ware and switched almost entirely to glass containers. I find that the lids fit better, and I am more comfortable storing food in glass instead of plastic. I also like how easy it is to see what’s inside. So I use glass for nearly everything.”
So, some experts prefer glass and some prefer plastic. The choice is yours, too.
It’s tempting to just leave the lids on when you microwave stuff in your containers. Don’t. No sealed lid benefits from the vacuum effect that happens when you heat up your food in the microwave. Abusing the lid in this way can cause it to warp and lose its seal. When you microwave, if you must keep the lid on to prevent splatter, always make sure to loosen the lid completely and set it slightly ajar across the top of the container. An even better option is to use a vented microwave cover or a paper towel over your container when you zap it. Also, if you’re using a microwave with sensor reheat, it won’t work properly unless it can detect the amount of moisture coming off of your food.
Handwashing works fine for most food-storage containers. When you’re running these in the dishwasher, plastic pieces should always go on the top and glass pieces can go on the bottom rack. If the lid has a removable gasket, remove the gasket from time to time and clean it separately from the lid to make sure no mold can grow.
Dry the lids completely before storage, and store the containers without the lids on to protect the longevity of the seal.
The OXO Good Grips 8 Piece SNAP Glass Rectangle Container Set is one of the few sets we looked at that’s made with borosilicate glass, which is a great material for withstanding temperature changes. However, it’s expensive (about $7 per container) and comes with only four containers, and one of the flaps completely broke off of a lid on our first attempt to close it.
The Zyliss “Fresh” Glass Food Storage Containers are also made of borosilicate glass, but are more expensive than our current top pick and currently aren’t sold as a set on Amazon.com.
The Pyrex Simply Store 6-Piece Rectangular Glass Food Storage Set leaked quite a bit (some customer reviews also report this). During our drop test, both lids loosened multiple times, allowing the contents to spill out. The No-Leak lids, which come with a vent for lid-on microwaving, seemed to warp a bit after the microwave and dishwasher run.
Anchor Hocking glass containers got a B+ from Good Housekeeping, but Cook’s Illustrated does not recommend them, because the seal became noticeably looser after running through the dishwasher 50 times and leaked profusely.
The Bormioli Rocco Frigoverre Fun line (which appears to be the same as the Ziploc VersaGlass line) is made in Italy. These containers did not stay as airtight as other glass containers in Good Housekeeping’s tests.
The Rubbermaid Easy Find Lid 42-Piece Set leaked both before and after running through the dishwasher so we were able to dismiss.
The Popit Little Big Box Food Plastic Container Set didn’t leak when filled with water, and the removable gasket made cleaning easy. However, this set didn’t pass our drop test: The flaps popped open, and one completely broke off.
The Rubbermaid Food Storage Container with Easy Find Lids Premier Line did very well in nearly all of our tests, but it was difficult to tell when the lid was sealed properly. We also felt the container sizes were a little too small for holding leftovers.
The Frieling Emsa Clip and Close containers turned bright red after being microwaved with pasta sauce in tests done by Good Housekeeping. This set performed fairly well in every test of ours except the drop test, in which the flaps opened up easily.
The plastic Snapware 18-Piece Airtight Box Set we recommended last year had faulty lid flaps that were difficult to close when tested again this year. This set also held onto food odors and stains more than the competition.
The OXO Good Grips LockTop containers received praise from Cook’s Illustrated (subscription required) for their easy, flap-free pressed seal, these cracked in our drop test. (One Amazon customer had a similar experience.) And they seemed less airtight, leaving our strawberries tasting fermented after 13 days.
Lock & Lock containers boast a recommendation from Cook’s Illustrated and raves from some Serious Eats and The Kitchn commenters, but we couldn’t find them in any of the stores we visited, and only a few online retailers actually keep them in stock.
Rubbermaid Lock-Its have tops that snap neatly to their nesting bottoms, so keeping mates together is easy. While Good Housekeeping calls these containers its top choice “for packing up leftovers after dinner,” Cook’s Illustrated labels them “Not Recommended” because the seals distorted in the microwave.
Sterilite containers, which you can find at many retailers, received poor marks from both Cook’s and Good Housekeeping for a seal that wasn’t airtight.
The Glad MatchWare color-coded lids and containers made matching pairs easy, but they leaked, stained, had left ground meat covered with freezer burn. These containers also exploded in our drop tests.
The Ziploc Starter Variety Pack Containers nest well, but they leaked and became extremely soft when microwaved
The Reditainer Deli Food Storage Containers are typically used in professional restaurant kitchens because they’re cheap to buy in bulk, uniform, and store very neatly. While these containers didn’t leak and kept freezer burn at bay, but they stained easily and hung onto food odors. These containers also shattered in our drop test.
(Photos by Michael Hession.)
Originally published: May 12, 2016