Switching to glass food storage from plastic
December 21, 2018 7:50 AM   Subscribe

I use a lot of plastic food storage boxes. Despite being microwave and dishwasher safe, these inevitably end up warped and stained orange. I'm also generally trying to reduce my use of plastic. So I'm thinking of switching to glass, but I have questions!

I do a lot of batch cooking and store portions of food in the freezer and then defrost and microwave it all in the same container. I started out with a really nice set of tupperware/plastic food storage boxes (the type with the clip down sides that are fairly sturdy). Despite being supposedly microwave and dishwasher safe, these all ended up fairly warped. Even before then, any box that had tomato-based food in it (which is most of what I eat) would turn a horrible orange colour. The plastic also goes a weird grainy texture.

I ended up binning all my no-longer-good tupperware and now just buy the cheapest food storage boxes in the supermarket, like these ones. I can usually use them for a few months before throwing them out and replacing them. I absolutely hate how much plastic waste this is, and so an obvious solution seems to be switching to glass.

But glass containers are expensive, and I want to be sure that they won't also end up trashed by my dishwasher. If you use glass storage containers for freezing/microwaving/dishwashing, especially tomato-based meals, how do they hold up? Do they still get that weird orange grainy texture on them? I'm particularly eyeing up these IKEA boxes if anyone has experience of them. Or if anyone has recommendations for glass food storage boxes that are available in the UK, please let me know!
posted by maybeandroid to Home & Garden (40 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I have one glass tupperware and the container itself is great, though I haven't put it in the freezer. Does not get stained at all - that's an aftereffect of the acidity of tomatoes breaking down the plastic material, and you would need a much stronger acid to do the same thing to glass. The one issue I have is that because the lid is plastic, that's the piece that eventual warps, and because glass is not flexible I can't get 2 of the sides to close. If you can buy extra lids though you should be good, and will definitely reduce your plastic waste if you're only replacing the lids.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:55 AM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I did this four years ago - I switched to Pyrex, which looks to be available in the UK. It's held up great. I did have to buy some replacement plastic lids because of warping, but they are cheap and readily available in the standard sizes.
posted by something something at 7:55 AM on December 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

I use these Pyrex glass storage containers. I've had mine for years (maybe ten years already?) and really like them. I've had to replace a couple of lids because they cracked but you can buy a bunch of lids separately so it isn't a big deal.

I highly recommend them.
posted by mcduff at 7:57 AM on December 21, 2018 [7 favorites]

Pyrex, Pyrex, Pyrex.

I use the old, vintage pieces, which are beautiful and beautifully functional. The only drawback is that they are not dishwasher safe - the finish on the colors will dull and the colors will fade.

You can buy clear pyrex now that will be safe in your washer - but I just prefer to buy my pyrex second hand for cheeeeeap and then hand-wash because they're gorgeous and they make me happy.

Mix in them, bake in them, store them, freeze them - pyrex is the best. The only thing you can't do is use them on the stovetop.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 7:57 AM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

We switched from plastic to Glasslock brand storage containers about 10 years and they are wonderful. The glass as well as the tops are both dishwasher and microwave safe. I don't know exactly what kind of plastic the tops are made out of but they have held up for 10 years being used continuously and washed in the dishwasher whenever they are dirty.

One benefit of these containers that I hadn't thought of previously is that they stay organized much more easily. With cheap plastic food storage containers I'm somehow always losing the lids or ending up with unmatched pieces. That never happens with these, maybe because they are higher value so I just keep track of them better.

I have not used them in the freezer. Offhand I think they'd be fine: you'd just want to make sure to leave some room for expansion, as the glass won't stretch the way plastic does. Also, you'd want to make sure that the tops are not latched when you put them in the microwave.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 8:04 AM on December 21, 2018 [6 favorites]

Yup, we've entirely switch to Pyrex for stuff that needs either freezing or heating, and it's super durable and cleans up fine. The only caveat is you have to be a little careful with heat shock - nothing hot on cold Pyrex, or it will not just break but explode.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:08 AM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I use these Pyrex glass storage containers.

We've got those, too. We usually don't put them in the freezer, but we have, and they're fine. They go in the dishwasher all the time. The only trouble I've had (other than butter-fingering one across the kitchen and shattering the glass in spectacular fashion) was a single cracked lid after years of use.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:10 AM on December 21, 2018

We switched to glass over plastic quite a few years ago and only go back to plastic for the small child's lunch containers, due to weight.

Our favorites are Glasslock, especially for liquid based foods.

The key is looking at the lids. Don't go for the cheaper lids. The more complex lids (like the lock-able ones above), the better. Those locks do eventually crack due to usage.

We've used both Pyrex and Anchor Hocking versions of glass containers with lids like these and I'd say about 5 years of use and the lids get brittle and crack. And they aren't liquid spill proof.

We had some Pyrex, I think, ten years ago with complex dark grey lids that included a light grey steam vent in the middle where the LIDS outlasted the glass containers. The glass containers had lips around the edges to help be spill proof, but I think the cost of producing those is higher than the no-lip ones sold now, as I have not found them since.

Wait, here's a rectangle version! This looks like it came from a set with no lips, which we also have, and these lids are really great, too.

But the glass does NOT get that orange textured issue that microwaved tomato sauce plastic does. So I think you'll really like them.
posted by jillithd at 8:14 AM on December 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

The only caveat is you have to be a little careful with heat shock - nothing hot on cold Pyrex, or it will not just break but explode.

This may happen more frequently to people who expect Pyrex branded stuff to still be made out of Borosilicate glass which is very resistant to thermal shock. Most Pyrex branded kitchen things In the US are made out of soda lime glass that has been tempered for toughness.
posted by Dr. Twist at 8:32 AM on December 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Nthing Pyrex - I have the snapware pyrex (glass bottom, plastic locking top) stuff and love it. I'm about two years in and they look good as new, although I'm sure the lids will give eventually.

One thing I like about snapware is that I also have some of the plastic containers (which use the same lids) and it's very helpful for things like sack lunches whenever weight and/or breakage is more of a concern. It's nice to have both glass and plastic options available as needed. Glass is still my preference, though.
posted by mosst at 8:33 AM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I swear by the Pyrex snaplocks. We've got about three sets in constant heavy rotation for lunches, cooking, storage. They go in the dishwasher, microwave, freezer and oven with no problems. The hinges last without cracking, and they're liquid spillproof, with a rubber seal. I use them all the time to cook in the oven and then store the leftovers in the same container in the fridge. Costco has them on sale for $7 off, which makes a set of 9 less than $30.
posted by sydnius at 8:34 AM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Pyrex is very, very nice stuff, and I have no regrets about any of the many pieces of vintage and modern Pyrex I've purchased over the years.

But I like the lids on Anchor Hocking's TrueSeal glass storage containers slightly better.
posted by box at 8:36 AM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Not part one of your questions. The glass containers do not nest like plastic so they will take more storage room.
posted by tman99 at 8:56 AM on December 21, 2018 [7 favorites]

I bought a couple sets of Pyrex storage containers about ten years ago -- one of the Anchor Hocking sets with the TrueSeal and one of the regular Pyrex with the plastic lids -- and I liked them OK, though there are a few things about glass storage containers that are drawbacks:

1. They are expensive. Big up-front cost and also more expensive to replace.

2. And replacement is an issue -- when you're using the cheap/free plastic containers you don't even notice how many you lose because you're replacing them anyway. I'm here to tell you, ten years later, that I literally have ONE of my Pyrex containers left. ONE. I have NO IDEA where the rest of them went. (Maybe this is just me?)

3. They're heavy. Three plastic food containers in a backpack, no problem, three glass ones and you notice the weight.

4. Storage of the containers is a pain. We just have shelves, not drawers, so with plastic it just falls out and no problem, just catch it and put it back. If you have less than ideal storage container storage, a tile kitchen floor, and glass storage containers it can be an issue. Also they don't nest nearly as well so they take up more space.

5. Some places won't allow glass containers so you'll still need to keep plastic on hand for those occasions.

But yeah they're great for reheating, and in the dishwasher and freezer. But I never really wanted to freeze stuff in them because I never felt like I had enough of them to go without them for long periods of time. Of course the solution is just to buy more, but see 1 and 4.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:05 AM on December 21, 2018

I use Pyrex containers almost exclusively and can vouch for their freezeability. If you happen to be in the United States and have access to a Big Lots store, they are way cheaper there than other places.
posted by corey flood at 9:09 AM on December 21, 2018

My solution to freezing: whenever applicable, I freeze the thing in the container in such a way that I can pop it out when frozen and reclaim the container. I store the frozen contents in appropriate-size ziplock freezer bags (usually wrapping it in foil first) but don't reheat in the bag, which can be reused a number of times if it doesn't take any damage in the freezer.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:11 AM on December 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

The key is looking at the lids. Don't go for the cheaper lids. The more complex lids (like the lock-able ones above), the better. Those locks do eventually crack due to usage. We've used both Pyrex and Anchor Hocking versions of glass containers with lids like these and I'd say about 5 years of use and the lids get brittle and crack. And they aren't liquid spill proof.

Seconding these points. I have some lovely, sturdy glass bowls with simple plastic lids that cracked and tore under normal use in just a few months, even though they were always hand-washed and never placed in the dishwasher.

OTOH, I got cheap glass rectangles with lockable lids from the from the dollar store a couple of years ago and they're still going strong.
posted by maudlin at 9:26 AM on December 21, 2018

I have Glasslock containers and few from IKEA that are glass with the locking lid. I prefer the Glasslock ones as they have better sizes for my use needs - the IKEA ones are smaller. The Glasslock lids are also great. They do fine in the dishwasher and I've both microwaved and frozen food in the with no problems. I do also have a Pyrex container with a plastic, not-locking lid. The lid isn't as sturdy and one corner now has a tear (the container is years old at this point). They may have redesigned their lids since, but I switched to Glasslock and haven't looked back.

I stopped feeling comfortable heating things in plastic, even if there were claims of the plastic being microwave safe. The switch to glass is an investment, but I'm so happy that I did it. I started by buying 2 containers and then adding another container every month or two to spread out the sticker shock. I've also seen Glasslock sets go on sale at Costco, which also brings down the price.
posted by quince at 9:28 AM on December 21, 2018

I also do a lot of batch cooking (hello 32 x lamb jalfrezi portions!) and switching to glass is definitely the way to go. I've admired Pyrex in the past but bought a very cheap job lot from a local market well over 15 years ago and they're still going strong - they're made from a thick, sturdy glass that touch wood has survived multiple dishwashing sessions.

p.s. Soaking tomato and fish stained plastic containers with Steradent tablets can really get them clean.
posted by humph at 9:29 AM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I use mason jars (jars for home canning) with a separate plastic lid with a silicone gasket for water tightness. They are not expensive; the lids are usually more than the jars. Cheap off-brand silicone gasket lids are just as good as expensive lids.

They're uniform in size. They're relatively durable and can be sterilized. The jars are microwaveable and freezable (don't go straight from the stove, let them cool; leave a larger headspace than you normally would.) The wide-mouth pints are a reasonable serving. They wash easily and don't hold off flavors. The box they come in has cardboard dividers, so they store in the grid and can stack if all the jars in the box are the same height.
posted by blnkfrnk at 9:29 AM on December 21, 2018 [7 favorites]

My family uses the Pyrex ones. They go in the freezer, fridge, microwave, oven, dishwasher, whatever. They are nice, although as folks have said the lids do eventually warp and crack. The containers themselves are as good as new. The baking dishes with lids are particularly great—you bake your brownies or lasagna or whatever in them, then just pop the lid on and stick it in the fridge for leftovers, couldn't be easier.

We keep a random assortment of plastic containers as well, stretching all the way back to Mom's original Tupperware from like 30-something years ago. I use a plastic container for my lunch sandwiches, because it's light and I can just toss it in my work bag and not worry about it shattering.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:30 AM on December 21, 2018

Do you need another vote for Pyrex and Glasslock? We have a ton of both that we've used for years. A bit of an upfront investment but they are better in every way. We do a ton of batch cooking and freezing and they do fine for freezer to microwave. I think we have about three sets of the Glasslock set linked above plus a couple of Pyrex sets, and it's enough to fill our chest freezer.
posted by john_snow at 9:49 AM on December 21, 2018

FYI: it's not your dishwasher destroying the plastic tupperware, it's the freezer (specifically, freezing and then heating up in the microwave). But glass should solve this problem if you're OK with the container getting super hot to the touch after microwaving.
posted by serelliya at 9:49 AM on December 21, 2018

I know you're not in the US, but for other people reading this for recommendations, the best deal on sets of quality Pyrex right now are at Costco. I think it's $29 for a pretty large set, which contains about 4 fairly large containers, and they stack up pretty well. It's a brand you can get more of as singles at Target, as well, so you can supplement if the set isn't large enough.

Most of the time, sets of the stuff consist of a bunch of really tiny ones and almost nothing large.
posted by twoplussix at 10:00 AM on December 21, 2018

The Kouti household puts tomatoes in just about everything, so I feel you on those orange stains on plastic :)

We've gone with the Pyrex* Snapware as our glass storageware of choice (I have had bad experiences with Glasslock lids being impossible to close, though for storage they nest better than the Snapware). The lids are still plastic, but they're more sturdy than the plasticware we'd been using before, so I feel less resentful about babying them a bit?

Lid care:
- no microwaving (that's what our silicone covers are for)
- hand wash or at most run on "light mode" in the dishwasher
- when initially freezing something in the container, cover it with plastic wrap; only add the lid *after* whatever's being frozen is completely frozen, 24 hours later.

Glass container care: it really does go from the freezer to thawing (important!) to the microwave or the oven and then the dishwasher. (I've done plenty of fridge to microwave directly without any problems.) Effortless.

Tomato stains: it also helps that we have red lids for our 8x8 and 9x13 glass casserole dishes* for all of my tomatoey pasta bakes.

* I went to see if I could give you a direct link for the Pyrex stuff in the UK, but the pyrexhome.uk site said "we no longer sell through our website because of GDPR." So my links are just examples for you to look for. :(
posted by Pandora Kouti at 10:02 AM on December 21, 2018

In case you’re considering the recent Pyrex snapware from Costco: I found the glass to be very prone to breakage. We only had it for a couple of months, and I am sure we just put them carefully in the drawer, nested. One evening while eating some leftovers, I bit into a GLASS SHARD. That was a very stressful 24 hours of hoping I didn’t do any damage to my guts. (I was fine) It turns out that several of the containers had chipped-off around the corner areas. Not cool! Update: I see you’re in the UK so perhaps Costco isn’t relevant, but the info may help others!
posted by oxisos at 10:21 AM on December 21, 2018

whoa, thank you for that info!

I recently chipped the edges of a couple of OXO snap containers from Target, with no special mishandling (also broke a lid on the first use)

I think this is likely a problem with snap-down lid glass in general- it comes with a thinner profile protrusion that helps the lids snap on solidly.

I've had the Pyrex Simply Store containers for a decade with no problems. They are more like a small casserole dish with a smoother lip, and nothing's chipped even though I drag them all over the place for lunches, drop them sometimes, etc.
posted by twoplussix at 11:12 AM on December 21, 2018

My household has also been using wide-mouth pint canning jars for years. The wide-mouth pints are the best shape for freezing, because they don't have a neck for food expansion to squeeze against. The recent fashion for canning jars has produced some nifty doodads -- silicon sleeves that are good for carrying, eating when the jar is hot from the microwave, they look a little less home-made if that's embarassing at lunch. More mason jar add-ons at that link. I hate having lids that don't match containers or containers for which lids are no longer manufactured and that is not likely to be a problem with standard canning equipment!

Oh also, a nice pattern for a bag that insulates jars against thawing or knocking together. With fleece as the interlining they'll stay frozen a long time.
posted by clew at 11:51 AM on December 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the point about storage, that's something I hadn't considered and may be a deal breaker as I don't have much kitchen space and currently all the plastic boxes do stack very neatly because they're all the same size.

Does anyone have experience with the specific IKEA ones I linked to with the bamboo lids? I'd prefer them to be 100% plastic free
posted by maybeandroid at 12:58 PM on December 21, 2018

No specific experience, but those bamboo lids will need to be handwashed (not the biggest deal, but worth bearing in mind) and they're kinda thin for how big they are and what they need to do (stack, go from freezer to microwave, get wet, dry out again, then get wet again and go in the freezer, etc.) so I'd expect them to lose their seal fairly quickly and then eventually just break.

Personally I really like the looks of Pyrex Ultimate. Glass containers with glass-and-silicone lids. Likely to be very long-lasting, and no plastic. I'm not sure why silicone gets a pass as non-plastic (I mean from an environmental standpoint, I realize it's different chemically) but at least it's inert and will survive many more temperature cycles than hyrdocarbon-based polymers.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:17 PM on December 21, 2018

I replaced all my plastic containers with those exact IKEA ones a few months ago. The great thing about them is that the lids are interchangeable with at least two depths of containers, and you can also get plastic snap-on containers for more secure storage (we didn’t mind the plastic lid). There are also plastic containers of the same size/lid system, I bought a few for lightweight lunches and to send leftovers home with friends.

They do nest pretty well, once in awhile they are a bit hard to separate. If that becomes a problem I plan on putting dish towels between each one in the stack.

Pyrex is hard to find where I live, so I can’t speak to that, but the ikea ones have served us really well.
posted by third word on a random page at 3:36 PM on December 21, 2018

We got these Frigoverre nesting glass storage containers at the same time as we got our glasslock. They nest wonderfully and 10 years later they are still going strong. We wash the glass and the lids in the dishwasher and both go in the fridge and microwave as well.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 4:37 PM on December 21, 2018

I have the Ikea ones. They do not get stained. They do well in the freezer and microwave. The bamboo lids less so. They eventually dry and split, and the rubber seals disintegrate. I think the lids probably shouldn't be dishwashered even though I think they say you can.

The lids fit so tightly I often have trouble removing them, especially after something has been frozen in them. On the plus side, that means the seal is good, so they don't leak.

I think the plastic lids might be a good compromise. Although the bamboo ones are so pretty!

They are way too heavy to use as lunchboxes, though, which is what I do with the plastic boxes - put leftovers in, freeze, grab one from the freezer on the way out the door, microwave at work. So I'm currently still using crappy plastic for lunches, and the IKEA boxes for things I won't be taking to work.

One more caveat - if you are in earthquake country and switch to glass, put non-slip matting on your shelves, and secure the cupboard doors. My mother spent 100s on switching from tupperware to glass containers just before a major earthquake, and not only did she lose it all, she had a hell of a mess to clean up in the kitchen. And of course lost all the food stored in them too since it was full of glass shards.
posted by lollusc at 5:32 PM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

"Not part one of your questions. The glass containers do not nest like plastic so they will take more storage room."

So, one of the very few 'life hacks' that I've read that actually made my life better was to quit trying to nest plastic containers. Just store them with their lids on. In the end it'll take up marginally more space, but it'll be *so* much easier to get them out and use them; you'll feel more organized and getting a container won't be a pain in the ass. I was surprised how little extra space it took up once I made this switch (and I'm generally battling for space in my modest sized kitchen as well).

That being said, glass containers do take up more space (thicker). Personally I use glass containers for fridge and left-overs, and then use plastic containers to store my dry goods (my pantry only has plastic containers, and it's sooo much easier to find and use food this way).
posted by el io at 10:48 PM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I had the cheap Ikea plastic nesting containers and replaced them with two sets of Duralex Freshbox, which nest just fine and actually take up less room. I love them so much. Glasslock and Pyrex sets at the time weren’t as easy to get ahold of here in Italy, and had a corresponding price premium. I got the Duralex for a song when it popped up on one of the myriad private sales sites (showroomprive.com).
posted by romakimmy at 11:42 PM on December 21, 2018

I forgot to add that for dry food storage I got some Bormioli Rocco Fido jars which I also love but do take up a bit more space. It’s a payoff I’ll take for no more pantry moths, though.
posted by romakimmy at 11:48 PM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Same as you, I got tired my of warped and stained plastic containers. Several years I switched over to this Glasslock set because pyrex is hideously expensive here. Performs as advertised — freezer to oven or microwave. I’m thinking of getting a second set, I like it so much.
posted by lemon_icing at 11:51 PM on December 21, 2018

I went to pyrex maybe ten or twelve years ago and all has been great except here in the past year I got careless and put the plastic lids on the low rack in the dishwasher. And I cracked a bunch of them -- it seems they really want to stay away from the heat element in the dishwasher. But glass is so. much. nicer. and it doesn't get ugly and I need not worry about feeding the plastic manufacturers (big oil) nor worry about eating cooked plastic -- gross.

Also, pyrex stacks well, not sure about the ikea stuff.

Go glass, you'll never go back.
posted by dancestoblue at 12:11 AM on December 22, 2018

Another vote for snapware. They also carry a lifetime warranty. I've had a few lids break over the years and they've replaced them for me without issue.
posted by homesickness at 3:37 PM on December 22, 2018

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