I live for leftovers. Or, more accurately, I live off leftovers.
My weekend routine includes making at least one large-batch dish to have dinners for easy weeknight meals, and my husband often does, too. Peek into our refrigerator at any time and you’ll probably find a motley assortment of containers filled with food.
If only I put as much thought into the storage as I do the cooking.
Many of the containers in my overflowing cabinet are of the plastic takeout variety. Others are standard grocery store quality. Many are missing lids; plenty are cloudy after repeat trips though the dishwasher. Getting new, high-quality containers — and using the right ones at the right time — is one of those things constantly in the back of my mind, but I’ve never quite made it happen.
Where to start?
Because the number of options can make anyone’s head spin, Kim Kimbriel, a buyer for the Container Store, recommends thinking about what you’re going to be using the containers for.
Lunch on the go? Plastic. Storing food in the freezer for oven-ready meals? Glass.
“Generally, glass is the most airtight,” says Sharon Franke, kitchen appliances and technology director for the Good Housekeeping Institute in New York.
Frieling’s Emsa Clip & Close containers are a Good Housekeeping top pick. They can keep air out for 14 days, a claim that Franke and her team tested in a hot, humid lab using silica gel beads that change from blue to pink when exposed to moisture. (For the record, even inexpensive, disposable plastic containers performed respectably for about a week.)
Franke says containers with silicone gaskets and lids that snap on all four sides are especially effective at keeping food fresh.
There have been other user-friendly developments in food storage. Many manufacturers no longer make plastics with bisphenol-A (BPA), the controversial chemical that has been linked to possible health risks, even though the Food and Drug Administration considers it safe. And in light of the ongoing conversation about food waste, companies are exploring new ways to help consumers hold onto their produce longer. Oxo’s GreenSaver products, for example, feature activated carbon filters, “floating” baskets and adjustable vents that are designed to, respectively, trap ethylene gas (which causes some produce to decay), promote airflow and control humidity.
Kimbriel says container materials also have expanded beyond glass and plastic to include stainless steel and silicone. The Container Store, for example, sells a line of silicone containers that are microwave- and oven-safe.
Some silicone containers collapse for easy storage. Another organizing solution: sets with nesting containers and lids, such as Joseph Joseph’s Nest Food Storage collection. Other brands feature lids that snap onto the bottom of containers, such as Snapware Airtight, which Cook’s Illustrated highly recommended in its rigorous testing of plastic food storage containers in 2010. No more mismatched sets or cascades of tumbling plastic.
The shape of the container is another factor to consider. Most people gravitate toward rectangular pieces, Kimbriel says, as they’re easier to store. The depth of the containers is important as well. Cook’s Illustrated noted that low, flat versions make it easy to stack items above or below them. Moreover, shallower containers facilitate quick cooling, to get food out of the temperature danger zone in which bacteria can thrive (40 to 140 degrees), as well as heating, which means dinner can get on the table that much faster.
Whatever you end up purchasing, follow the manufacturer’s care instructions. Most plastics belong on the top rack of your dishwasher, if you put them in there at all. “I’m an advocate of hand-washing things,” Kimbriel says.
To help you decide what type of containers are best for you, here’s a checklist to consider:
Freezer to microwave? Both.
Lids with gaskets and clamps? Both.
Keeps food fresh? Both.
BPA-free? Glass, some plastic.
Dishwasher-safe? Glass, and plastic generally on the top rack.
Stain-resistant? Glass, some plastic.
Odor-resistant? Glass, some plastic.
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