The Best Food-Storage Containers
After conducting long-term testing over two years and watching the prices on these sets swing wildly, we’re back to recommending Glasslock containers. About the same price as Snapware pieces (on Amazon, at least), they have a durable seal and an elegant look that will last for years. In our tests, the containers stayed leak-free and survived counter-height drops onto wood. The glass keeps stains and smells from lingering, as well, and the containers look great filled with leftovers and stacked in the fridge.
We will revisit this guide to test additional models, but for now, we’ve changed our pick to Snapware Total Solution because it’s more readily available, a better value, and has held up after a year of long term testing.
If you can’t get the Glasslock containers, our runner-up is the Snapware Total Solution glass set. These nestable pieces are oven-, dishwasher-, and microwave-safe, and even cheaper if you purchase them 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 speedy replacement. 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 this year, we believe that plastic is safe for food container use and have updated our guide to reflect that. We plan to revisit testing plastic food-storage containers next year to update our plastic recommendation. But for now, if you must get a plastic pick, the best-reviewed containers are Snapware’s Airtight set. These boxes, which resisted leakage well in our tests, feel a bit flimsy, but they’re also very affordable.
Table of contents
- Why you should trust us
- Should you upgrade?
- How we picked and tested
- Plastic or glass
- Our pick: the best glass containers
- Flaws but not dealbreakers
- Long-term testing notes
- Runner-up: cheaper at Costco
- Runner-up: flaws but not dealbreakers
- Runner-up: long-term testing notes
- If you prefer plastic
- Care and maintenance
- The competition
- Wrapping it up
Why you should trust us
I came to this conclusion after 24 hours of research, including perusing reviews, talking with experts on food safety and with editors who do a lot of food storage in their work, and doing my own confirmation tests of filling, shaking, storing, freezing, microwaving, washing, and dropping these containers. I also used my experience as a food writer for Saveur, Garden Design, NYMag.com, and more.
We talked with Nancy Hopkins, senior deputy food and entertaining editor for Better Homes and Gardens, and Faith Durand, executive editor for The Kitchn. We also asked our science editor, Leigh Krietsch Boerner, PhD, to review this guide’s update.
Should you upgrade?
If you’re one of those cheapskates (like me) who have always recycled old plastic yogurt containers for basic food storage, you have a few reasons to upgrade. First, you can’t see through those 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 food storage or microwaving.
How we picked and tested
With so much to choose from, we wanted to break down the basic requirements. A good container should be airtight, leakproof, break-resistant, stain-resistant, and easy to clean.
Food should last longer. Nancy Hopkins, senior deputy food and entertaining editor for Better Homes and Gardens, told us, “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.”
Leakproof construction is important for transporting liquids.
Durability is important, as is shatter-resistance, which eliminates ceramic containers.
Anyone who has old food-storage containers knows that nothing is more off-putting than a stained container that still smells of yesterday’s lunch, so resistance to stains and odors is key. We also wanted something that could go in the dishwasher and the microwave, which eliminates stainless steel.
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.
The container should be clear or easy to see through, so that you can always know what you have inside without needing to open it up.
Most 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 gasket with room for mold to grow can be problematic after time, however, if the gasket is not designed for removal and cleaning on its own.
And 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).
Beware of sellers who market their sets as 14-piece or 16-piece; they’re including the lids in that count, so you’re really getting only seven or eight containers.
We decided to limit this discussion to reusable containers that aren’t meant to be disposable. Plastic or glass storage containers range from about $3 to $10 apiece, depending on which material they’re made of. They’re sold both individually and in sets, which generally lowers the price 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.
When it came time to winnow down these major brands and models by consulting editorial sources, we didn’t find a ton of comparative reviews to look at. Our two main sources were the Cook’s Illustrated guides (subscription required) to plastic storage containers and glass storage containers and Good Housekeeping Institute’s reviews of food storage. Since those articles were written a few years ago, a few of the models discussed on both sites are either no longer being made or subject to change.
With that in mind, we decided to run our own tests on the best models we could find.
The sets we looked at provided the best value per piece. We tried to pick those 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.
We stored both cut and whole unwashed strawberries in the refrigerator for as long as they could last, which turned out to be 13 days.
We also froze overnight and reheated a double batch of Marcella Hazan’s awesome tomato-butter sauce, which we hoped would show how the containers would react to stains and smells.
We divided up ground beef into ¼-pound portions and froze a hunk in each container for two weeks to look at freezer-burn patterns.
We filled the containers with water and shook them, both before and after they had run through the dishwasher.
And, most fun of all, we conducted a drop test from waist height for all the picks, including our glass containers.
Cook’s Illustrated didn’t do a drop test on glass at all, expecting the pieces to break. We thought we’d try anyway, because we wanted to see if any of them would survive (spoiler: they did!). We did this test on a piece of wood over cement in an attempt to simulate a non-bouncy kitchen floor (without breaking the tiles in my kitchen). We dropped each filled container right side up, upside down, on its side, and on a corner.
What we couldn’t simulate was wear and tear over time—for that, we relied on customer reviews and complaints.
Plastic or glass
Deciding which kind of material to get? Here’s how we’d decide.
- if you’re using the containers mostly for storage at home
- if you store foods that tend to stain or smell
But choose plastic:
- if you want something cheaper that you can leave at potlucks
- if your family tends to lose containers
- if you want something lighter to carry around
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, this year the European Food Safety Authority released a large-scale risk assessment that convinced us to 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 its terrible reputation. 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 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 is unfazed by the plastic debate. “We tell people to do your homework, read the directions, wash it and store it properly. 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.”
In her book, An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace, Tamar Adler details how to make great meals from leftovers and ends, which she understands can be a challenge for some cooks. She prefers to save her food in glass (Mason jars, to be precise). “I feel funny about plastic,” she told us. “I feel like glass dignifies everything.”
Faith Durand, executive editor for The Kitchn, held similar sentiments. She told us, “I prefer glass! A few years ago I got rid of my old, mismatched plastic storageware 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.
Our pick: the best glass containers
After two years of long-term testing and watching prices go up and down on these sets, we recommend Glasslock containers. Glasslock is the name you want to look for—you can find these containers sold under the brand names Kinetic Go Green, Martha Stewart, and Wean Green. Filled, these containers stack beautifully in the fridge, making it easy to see what leftovers you’ve got to work with. Compared with the other brands we tested, they locked more securely without leaking and didn’t break or pop open when dropped. (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.) Though the seal leaked when we filled containers with water straight out of the box, a run through the dishwasher improved the seal.
The 16-piece, eight-container set we purchased comes with square and rectangular containers, as well as one round container, ranging from 14 ounces (1¾ cup) to 88 ounces (11 cups) in size. The walls are thick but perfectly see-through. The plastic top, labeled #5 for polypropylene, has a firm silicone gasket that fills the lid groove from edge to edge. We found the plastic hinges on the lid pretty easy to snap on and off, though we’ve seen reviews from people having trouble getting the lids on. Cleanup is easy; you need to wash the lids on the top dishwasher rack, but you can put the glass containers on the bottom. Like Pyrex and Anchor Hocking glass, the Glasslock containers are made of tempered soda-lime glass.
The cut and whole unwashed strawberries we put inside kept for 13 days, with the greens still sprightly and the cut fruit tasting a touch off. Tomato-butter 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.
The latest-generation Glasslock pieces are oven-, microwave-, and dishwasher-safe, and same-size containers nest. We used to recommend the straight-sided containers only, but in my experience, the next-generation containers work just as well as the first version, and they’re more convenient for storage.
The Kinetic Go Green Glasslock container with straight sides was the top choice in glass for Cook’s Illustrated (subscription required and recommended). The testers say: “A neat, tight, reliable seal, good capacity, and solid performance in every test made this container a standout.”
Real Simple likes straight-sided Snapware Glasslock for leftovers, saying, “The locking latches create such a good seal that ‘food tasted as if it had been prepared the night before.’ Even when exposed to a tomato-based soup, the glass didn’t stain.”
Boing Boing also recommends Snapware Glasslock, praising the containers’ leakproof seal. “I have biked with one filled with soup and arrived at my destination without a drop missing (something I definitely couldn’t do with my old plastic ones), and I didn’t have to waste another bowl in order to microwave it.”
In this extensive Chowhound discussion, people give several nods to Glasslock. Referring to the straight-sided containers, davidahn says, “We use Glasslocks nearly exclusively, using the Pyrex, Lock & Locks, and various others (Gladware, etc.) ONLY if there are no free Glasslocks available.”
Flaws but not dealbreakers
These containers aren’t cheap, but because they are very sturdy, they last a long time, and customer reviews on Amazon back that up, with a rating of 4½ stars (out of five) across more than 1,200 reviews at this writing.
Another complaint some owners have raised is that you can’t keep the lids latched on while nuking. We found, however, that microwaving lids sealed on other containers sometimes caused warping, anyway. Loosening the lid on any container you’re microwaving in order to preserve the longevity of the seal is not a bad idea.
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 effect, take the light green gasket out from time to time (digging it out with a butter knife so you don’t nick it) and wash it with hot water, letting it dry completely before you reassemble.
Glasslock is sold under a number of different brands as well as its own name. Each brand has a different warranty without the level of customer service that Snapware offers, but getting a replacement is probably more hassle than it’s worth.
Long-term testing notes
We used to recommend buying only the straight-sided Glasslock containers. The Glasslock containers I’ve tested over the past two and a half years have all fared very well, though, and they all still work as well as they did when I first got them. Negative reviews regarding chipping and breakage seem to have tapered off too, so at this point we feel comfortable recommending the nesting, oven-safe generation.
I’ve 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.
Runner-up: cheaper at Costco
If the price on the Glasslock containers goes up above $4 per piece, or if you have a Costco membership, a set of Snapware Total Solution containers is the way to go. It has the best price of the glass options, winding up even cheaper than a few of the plastic containers: When purchased from Costco, these are about 25 percent cheaper than the Glasslock pieces.
The rectangular containers tend to be more flat than tall. Their locking flaps open easily but feel secure when shut. The containers tested well across the board, and because they’re Pyrex, the bottoms are oven-safe. Containers of the same size nest beautifully, and the lids even lock together nicely. We were amazed that the container didn’t break after we dropped it at different angles four times. The busy, decorated lids also have a write-on area where you can mark the contents or date using a permanent or dry-erase marker.
In tests, the Total Solution line performed admirably. When we filled several containers with water and shook them around, the seal held; however, we did notice that one of the containers sprang a small leak after a trip through the dishwasher. 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-butter sauce.
What elevates the Snapware Total Solution containers above the rest is an excellent lifetime warranty for the most vulnerable piece, the plastic lids, combined with super-responsive customer service. The open-and-shut hinges prevalent on many food-storage containers are really convenient and easy on the hands, but since it’s just a seam in a piece of hard plastic, they tend to break before the containers do. The Pyrex bottoms come with a two-year limited warranty.
Runner-up: flaws but not dealbreakers
Now the flaws: The lids are a little flimsy. All of these hinged lids are easy to use but prone to damage. I broke one lid’s hinges after pulling it out of the freezer and dropping it on ceramic tile. I called customer service (800-999-3436) and gave the rep my details, and the company promptly sent me a whole new container with lid. The process was painless, and the replacement came quickly.
Unlike 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. When you wash the lids, moisture can collect in this groove and not dry out on its own. If you get grease in the groove, it can be a little difficult to clean if you’re handwashing, which is slightly annoying but remedied with the swipe of a scrunched-up towel or sponge. And though I haven’t had any issues yet, the silicone does look like it’s breaking down.
These are not the most elegant-looking glass containers, but they are a great value for what you get.
Runner-up: long-term testing notes
I’ve been using these containers for about a year, and they’ve held up well. I’ve had only one lid hinge break on me, but Snapware customer service replaced it with such alacrity that I can hardly begrudge them for it. I’ve run the lids and bottoms through the dishwasher many times, and the lids still fit well.
If you prefer plastic
Plastic may be a more convenient choice for your household, especially if you or other members of your family are prone to losing containers. We want to revisit testing on plastic containers and do some comparisons with disposables, but for now, if you want plastic, get the Snapware Airtight set. It’s not perfect—I had one plastic hinge break right out of the box. The plastic is lightweight but thin, so it looks a little chintzy, and the skinny silicone gasket has a tendency to fall out when you wash the lids. However, the Snapware Airtight line performed really well in all of our tests. Cut strawberries didn’t taste off at all, which shocked us considering that the container had spent nearly two weeks in storage.
Cook’s Illustrated (subscription required) picked this model as the top plastic container, saying, “Though it allowed a few drops of water during its first submersion test, after dishwashing, seal was perfect.” Good Housekeeping gave it a B+, saying, “The Mods [the old name for the Airtight line] stained and warped after being used to reheat tomato sauce, so you might want to use them exclusively for storage.” The set is super-cheap, and the containers feel pretty flimsy. And though the plastic hinges seem to break for people often, Snapware offers a lifetime warranty on its containers for “products damaged during normal household use.” If you need to make a claim, call World Kitchen and keep the container or lid, as you may be asked to return it.
Care and maintenance
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 well 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.
Pyrex is a cheaper option; the brand’s shallow, nesting containers are made of soda-lime glass in the US, with food-safe #2 plastic lids. Though the the Bake, Serve, and Store set earned praise from Cook’s Illustrated and Woman’s Day, we found that the lids are Pyrex’s big weakness. Of the two tops we tested, we preferred the No-Leak lid set, as the Pyrex with standard blue storage lids tended to leak 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. Amazon user Rob Montana complains, “The ridge inside the lid gets displaced so it has been a chore getting the clean lid to snug up and to seal against the rim of the glass.”
Anchor Hocking glass containers got a B+ from Good Housekeeping, which says, “Of the 28 containers in our test, it did the absolute best job of keeping air out.” However, Cook’s Illustrated does not recommend them, because “after going through the dishwasher 50 times, its seal was noticeably looser and leaked profusely in every test.” Anchor Hocking containers, made of soda-lime glass, are manufactured in the US.
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.
We were intrigued by the Store N’ Lock containers at Bed Bath & Beyond, which are similar in design to the Glasslock brand but are made of borosilicate glass, the durable material that old-school Pyrex and European Pyrex is made of. But they didn’t have enough editorial tests or customer reviews to warrant a call-in for testing.
Among the plastic containers, our second-favorite plastic container was the more expensive, German-made Frieling Emsa Clip and Close. Good Housekeeping praises its gapless silicone gasket seal but says, “after being used to microwave pasta sauce, the translucent plastic bottoms turned bright red. The BPA-free containers are made of polypropylene and they come with a 30-year warranty. It also became hard to put on the lids after they were run through the dishwasher.” The Emsa container performed fairly well in every test of ours except the drop test, in which the flaps opened up easily.
The OXO Good Grips LockTop containers received praise from Cook’s Illustrated for their easy, flap-free pressed seal, though the site also says that the tested OXO container “[s]tained slightly more than other containers.” Good Housekeeping says, “While easy to use, they don’t provide the best air resistance.” Though we liked the transparency of the bottoms and the easy on-off tops, 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.
The EPA has barred the sale of the Kinetic Go Green plastic line we tested, as the “nanosilver” technology” it used to purportedly kill bacteria was an unregistered pesticide. In any case, these containers didn’t test very well, with mold growing on our strawberries.
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 in tests.
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.
Wrapping it up
Glasslock containers are expensive, but they are high quality, and they won’t leach chemicals into your food. With use over time, they might even save you money if they help you store more leftovers and bring your lunch to work.
(Photos by Ganda Suthivarakom.)
BPA, phthalates linked to teen health woes in study, CBS News, August 19, 2013,“The researchers looked for levels of phthalates including di-2-ethylhexylphthalate (DEHP), a type of phthalate commonly found in food packaging and other consumer plastic goods. The researchers found an association between higher levels of DEHP found in urine with increased insulin resistance among the teens.”
Please Explain: Endocrine Disruptors and Human Health, The Leonard Lopate Show, February 22, 2013
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Are You Storing Food Safely?, FDA.gov, April 9, 2014
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Originally published: November 24, 2015