Food Pan Lids Buyers' Guide

If your restaurant's staff members cover food pans with plastic wrap or aluminum foil, you're likely familiar with the struggles they cause. These products can be unwieldy and time-consuming to apply, and when you need to access something inside, you either have to apply a new wrap or accept that the pan's cover will likely have rips and gaps that leave the food inside open to contamination. It's also difficult, if not impossible, to get a good seal on the pan with plastic or foil, leading to spills that can cause cross-contamination or product loss. Food pan covers are a great way to avoid these problems and reduce food loss in your kitchen.

Lid Types by Application

There are several lid designs to choose from, with each suited for different uses. Most businesses can benefit from having several types on hand, allowing them to use the same food pans for storing, serving, and transporting food.

The two main purposes of lids when it comes to storing food are keeping contaminants out and providing a tight seal to help maintain freshness. Because of this, solid, flat lids are the most popular option for storing food in food pans. These are most commonly made out of stainless steel or polycarbonate, as these materials can withstand a wider range of temperatures, but polypropylene and polyethylene lids are also available. Plastic snap-on storage lids with seals are available to help maintain product freshness. Lids that fit more loosely may have central handles, but those with seals will usually have thumb tabs on their corners, providing an easy way of breaking the seals to remove the lids. Color-coded lids can help employees easily identify what is inside.

When transporting food, the focus should be on preventing spills, especially when the product being moved is liquid. Polypropylene and polycarbonate lids with inner seals are available to help minimize the chances of a spill. When transporting solid foods, stainless steel lids or plastic lids without seals will usually suffice. In either case, a flat top or slightly recessed lid is preferred so food pans can be stacked for easy transport.

For serving food or storing products that need to be accessed regularly, the food in the pan should be protected, but easy to access. Flat lids are made of rigid polypropylene or polycarbonate plastic, amber resin, or stainless steel. This type of lid usually has a handle for easy access, and if the food requires a utensil for serving, a notch in the lid allows for leaving that server in the pan while the lid is on. Hinged lids have a cut-out section that can be easily lifted to provide access to the pan's contents while the rest of the lid stays in place. Domed covers allow users to stack dry food products, such as produce and bread rolls, above the lip of the food pan while keeping them covered. Domed lids can have a handle to be easily lifted off, have a hinged portion that can be raised, or be a roll-cover with a portion that rolls back to provide access to the pan.

Pan Lid Infographic 740x1500-01 (4)

Lid Materials

Like food pans themselves, lids are available in several materials. While many people simply match the material of the lids to that of the pans, that isn't always necessary. However, if you decide to use a different material for the lid than the pan, keep the differing temperature tolerances in mind.

Stainless Steel

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Stainless steel lids have the distinction of being the most durable lids available. This durability is their biggest benefit, as they will not rust and are nearly impossible to break. Stainless steel is available in different thicknesses, called gauges, which determine its strength and resistance to dents, bending, and warping. The smaller the gauge number, the thicker the metal. So, 22-gauge stainless steel creates a very sturdy lid that is unlikely to warp or bend, while 42-gauge would dent relatively easily, but would likely be easier on the bottom line.

Pros:

  • Durable stainless steel lids will not rust or warp.
  • Stainless steel does not stain or discolor over time.

Cons:

  • Because metal conducts heat well, stainless steel lids will become hot to the touch when used to cover hot food.
  • Users cannot see the food inside a pan covered by a stainless steel lid.
  • Depending on the gauge of metal, stainless steel lids are often more expensive than their plastic counterparts.

Polycarbonate

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Polycarbonate is a durable plastic that is most often clear, allowing users to easily see what is being stored. This material can withstand temperatures as hot as about 200 degrees Fahrenheit, but not the high heat that stainless steel and some other plastics can. Polycarbonate also contains Bisphenol A (BPA), which is regulated in certain states and concerns some consumers.1

Pros:

  • Durable and shatterproof polycarbonate is very difficult to crack or break.
  • Polycarbonate plastic is more economical than stainless steel.
  • Clear plastic allows users to easily see what is in the food pan.

Cons:

  • Contains BPA, a compound some research has linked to cancer.
  • Because polycarbonate is rigid plastic and not bendable, and instead will snap under too much pressure.
  • This type is more expensive than other plastic options.

Polypropylene

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Polypropylene is the most economical food pan lid option. This type of plastic is translucent, instead of the crystal-clear of polycarbonate. It is not as durable as polyethylene, but is more flexible, so it will bend before it breaks. Polypropylene can withstand temperatures as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit, but can only handle temperatures as high as 160 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pros:

  • This type of plastic is less expensive than polycarbonate.
  • Polypropylene is translucent, allowing users to see what is in the food pan.
  • A bit of flexibility allows polypropylene to bend a bit instead of snapping.

Cons:

  • Polypropylene can become discolored, especially through extended contact with acidic foods like tomato sauces.
  • This type of plastic is BPA free.
  • Polypropylene does not have the crystal-clear transparency of polycarbonate.

Polyethylene

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Polyethylene is the most economical option for food pan covers, though because it is less durable it is not as common as polycarbonate or polypropylene. This plastic is somewhat flexible, and while it is made stain resistant for food storage, it can be stained by acidic foods. It can only withstand heat up to about 160 degrees Fahrenheit, so it is most commonly used for dry foods or cold storage. This plastic is BPA-free. It is not available in clear plastic, only in colors and opaque white.

Pros:

  • Polyethylene is the most economical initial investment when it comes to food pan covers.
  • This plastic is BPA-free.

Cons:

  • Not suitable for temperatures exceeding 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Only available in opaque colors, so users cannot see into the food pan while cover is on.
  • Acidic foods like tomato sauce can stain polyethylene.
  • Not available from all food pan manufacturers.

Amber Resin

Amber resin has long been used for high-heat food pans and lids, but due to a materials shortage these are not as easy to come by as in the past. Amber resin products can withstand higher heat than every other option except stainless steel, at about 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite its color, it is mostly see-through, so you can view what is in the pan without taking the lid off. However, because the amber resin required to make them is in higher demand, these food pan covers are the most expensive option, often costing as much as two times as a comparable stainless steel lid. To compensate for this increase, some manufacturers have created new high-heat plastic compounds.

Pros:

  • Food is visible through amber resin food pan lids.
  • Lids made of this material can withstand heat as high as 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cons:

  • Product shortage has made amber resin foodservice products more expensive.
  • Due to recent price increases, some manufacturers no longer carry amber resin.
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  1. What is BPA, and what are the concerns about BPA? Mayo Clinic. Accessed May 2017.