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How to Identify Food Grade Buckets

Storing foods in plastic buckets can be helpful in numerous ways. Plastic buckets allow you to store large amounts of bulk foods like grains and dried beans in lightweight containers for emergency preparedness. Using plastic containers will also allow you to buy cheaper bulk food and store it in an insect-proof and airtight container. However, not all plastics are safe for use with food; some plastics can leach harmful compounds into your food. To avoid this problem, you'll need to learn how to identify food grade buckets before using them.


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    Check the recycling symbol on the bottom of the bucket. The quickest and most reliable way to check for food safety is by consulting the recycling number. This number will be between 1 and 7 and will be stamped inside a triangle of arrows. As a general rule, the numbers that are safe for use with food are 1, 2, 4, and 5.
    • The best type of plastic for use in long-term food storage is high-density polyethylene (HDPE), which is indicated by the "2" symbol. HDPE is one of the most stable and inert forms of plastic, and all plastic buckets sold specifically for food storage will be made from this material.
    • Other types of plastic acceptable for food storage include PETE, LDPE, and polypropylene (PP). These plastics are represented by the numbers 1, 4, and 5 respectively.
    • An exception to this rule is bio-plastics, which are categorized under the catch-all symbol "7." Bio-plastics are plastic-like materials that are synthesized from plant-based sources such as corn. These materials are nonreactive and can be used to store food, but note that not all plastics marked as "7" are bio-plastics.
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    Examine any food-handling symbols imprinted on the plastic bucket. A standardized system of symbols is used on plastics to indicate their appropriate uses around food. A symbol depicting a cup and fork means that the plastic is safe for storing food, and is therefore a food grade bucket. Other symbols include radiating waves meaning "microwave-safe," a snowflake meaning "freezer-safe," and dishes in water meaning "dishwasher-safe."
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    Consult the label on the plastic buckets. If the buckets still have a price tag, manufacturer's label, or other identifying tag on them, you can consult this tag to determine if the plastic is food grade. Food grade buckets will nearly always be marked as such, because they are often more expensive to produce and thus can be sold at a premium. If the tag is missing, you may be able to contact the manufacturer and ask about the buckets they produce to determine if yours is food grade.
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    Utilize buckets that have previously been used to store food. If a plastic bucket was initially designed for food storage, then it is a good bet that it is suitable for storing your own bulk foods.
    • For example, many bakeries receive frosting and other ingredients in large plastic buckets, often of 5 gallon (19 L) capacity. These bakeries may be willing to donate or sell their empty buckets to you, after which you can clean them and use them for food storage.
    • Smaller plastic containers should be exempted from this rule. For example, bottled water is often packaged using PETE (with the designation "1"), which is designed to be used once and then recycled. PETE is initially food safe, but may break down and release harmful compounds if continually reused.


  • Plastic buckets with rubber gaskets under the lids are preferable for storing food, as they provide a better seal against air, moisture, and intruding insects.


  • Avoid exposing any plastic food storage container to excessive conditions of temperature and humidity, as these can speed the deterioration of the plastic.

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Categories: Food and Entertaining