Food Storage Containers Buyers' Guide

Equip Your Kitchen to Store Food Safely

According to the FDA Food Code, food in a commercial kitchen must be stored in a clean, dry location where it will not be contaminated, elevated at least 6 inches off the floor.1 These are just the bare minimum requirements, as many local health codes have additional rules to keep in mind. Restaurants should also strive to follow 'First In, First Out' (FIFO) principles, meaning the oldest ingredients and food are always used first. Having the proper food storage containers can not only keep you on the right side of the law, but can also help improve the workflow in your kitchen so you get the most out of the space you have.

Assess Your Needs

Narrowing down what you need can help ensure you get the right food storage containers for your kitchen. Below are some of the questions you may wish to consider:

  • What are you storing? Dry ingredients generally fare better in a round container, as there are no corners for the food to get stuck in. However, round containers take up more space than square and rectangular ones, due to their curved sides not allowing them to sit flush next to each other..
  • How much are you storing? Storage containers start at sizes as small as a few ounces for items like spices to larger containers that can hold more than 20 gallons.
  • Where will you store the containers? While large ingredient bins often have casters that raise the bottom of the bin several inches off the ground, most other food storage containers will need to be stored on shelves, as health regulations do not allow them to be stored on the floor. Whether they'll be kept in cold or dry storage, the clearance available between shelves may dictate the upper end of sizes you will be able to consider. If your height clearance allows it, purchasing stackable containers can also help you maximize your space.
  • How can you implement FIFO procedures? Making sure your kitchen staff uses the oldest ingredients first reduces product loss and ensures food quality by reducing the likelihood of ingredients being used past their expiration dates. Some ingredient bins have FIFO barriers that allow you to add more product without mixing it with what's already in it. Food storage labels can also help maintain the organization this system needs.
  • Can your food storage containers multitask? If you are storing food that will be used on a salad bar or buffet, you may wish to consider salad bar crocks. These have lids so they can be used for storage, but can also be set down into a food bar to display vegetables, salad dressing, or soup. Having the food stored and displayed in the same container can save space and labor.

Container Materials

The material a food container is made of will determine how you are able to use it and how durable it is. Plastic is the most common container material, but the type of plastic will determine its clarity, as well as whether it is microwavable.

  • Polycarbonate is a plastic prized for its clarity. While tinted polycarbonate containers are available, they're more often perfectly clear to allow you to see what is inside them. Certain polycarbonate is microwave safe, but because it contains BPA, some experts recommend not using this type of plastic in the microwave. However, this is one of the most durable types of plastic and it's nearly unbreakable.
  • Polyethylene is the most common plastic in the world. This plastic type is generally at least partially opaque, often to the point that it makes the contents of a polyethylene container impossible to see without removing the lid. Polyethylene is BPA-free, usually microwave safe, and more flexible than polycarbonate. Of the plastic types available, polyethylene is usually the most economical option.
  • Polypropylene cannot offer the clarity of polycarbonate, but it is more translucent than polyethylene. This plastic is BPA-free and suitable for use in freezers and microwaves.
  • Styrene acrylonitrile (SAN) is break-resistant and safe for use in microwaves. This plastic is usually clear with excellent clarity, often with a glass-like glossy finish.
  • Aluminum, as a metal, is not microwave safe. This material is often used for dough pans and salad bar crocks. While this metal is notorious for discoloring, it is also known for heating and cooling quickly. These should always be dried before being stored, as they are not as corrosion-resistant as stainless steel.
  • Stainless Steel is sometimes used for canisters and crocks. This metal is durable and resistant to rusting, allowing it to be washed in the dishwasher.

Food Container Storage Options

Container TypeImageUsed ForSizesMaterials
Square ContainersSquare food containersSquare containers are ideal for conserving space, as they can sit directly next to each other with no empty space in between. Because dry ingredients can get stuck in the corners, these are more suitable for use for liquids such as soups or sauces.2 to 22 qts.Polyethylene, polypropylene, polycarbonate
Food BoxesFood boxFood boxes are large, rectangular containers used to store large items or smaller items in bulk. These are often used for large cuts of meat or bulk produce. Food boxes are available in clear and a variety of colors to help with organization.134 to 22 gal.Polyethylene, polypropylene, polycarbonate
Round ContainersRound containersRound containers are the preferred shape for storing dry ingredients such as spices or flour. However, these have the drawback of taking up more space than square containers.2 to 22 qts.Polyethylene, polypropylene, polycarbonate
Ingredient BinsIngredient binsIf you need to store dry ingredients in more bulk than is convenient in a round container, an ingredient bin may be what you need. Some have FIFO barriers, and some allow access to the contents even with additional bins stacked on top. The largest bins often come on casters to make transportation simple and to help comply with health codes. These are often used in bakeries and pizzerias to store flour, sugar, oats, and other bulk dry ingredients.3 to 32 gal.Polyethylene, polycarbonate
Dough Boxes and PansDough boxesDough boxes and pans are made for storing unbaked dough. Some are designed to promote rising, while others are made to prevent it. These allow you to make your dough in large batches, so you always have fresh dough ready to bake when you need it.40 to 96 ouncesPolypropylene, aluminum
Salad Bar CrocksSalad crocksSalad bar crocks are made to fit into a food bar, allowing you to offer customers salad dressings and toppings. These crocks pull double duty, as they also have lids, which are sometimes sold separately, that allow you to use them for storage..6 to 10.38 qts.Polycarbonate, polypropylene, SAN, aluminum
Kitchen CanistersStainless steel canistersCanisters provide storage for small amounts of dry ingredients such as coffee, sugar, or spices. These are made to be versatile enough to be used front-of-house or in the kitchen, and often come in matching sets.4 to 70 oz.SAN, stainless steel, porcelain

Food Storage Accessories

Once you have found the right food storage containers, you can decide which accessories you need to help keep your kitchen organized. When it comes to keeping food organized and complying with HACCP data collection guidelines, food storage labels are indispensable. These allow you to label what each container holds, when it was placed there, when it should be used by, and any other relevant information. If you are storing dry ingredients, a scoop can help dispense the ingredients quickly and easily. These are available in stainless steel, aluminum, and polycarbonate.

To help your business comply with health codes, you may need wire or polymer shelving to store your food storage containers on. Most of these have adjustable shelves, allowing you to customize your setup to meet your local health regulations and allow enough room for your largest containers.

1. Food Code 2013. FDA. Accessed March 2016.