In the 1940s and '50s, Earl Tupper developed the first piece of Tupperware, a plastic bowl that "burped," or expelled air with a sound that indicated that a partial seal had formed. A saleswoman, Brownie Wise, proposed the idea of in-home demonstrations, and the Tupperware party was born. Since that time, Tupperware products have become an icon of American pop culture. Earl Tupper's burping bowl has inspired thousands of food storage products from dozens of manufacturers, including products that can be used to freeze and reheat foods, and containers that claim to extend the life of produce. Some containers can even be pressed down nearly as flat as their lids.
Fresh food storage containers come in a variety of sizes, styles and materials. Some are designed with vented lids to allow air to circulate around produce; others have tight-fitting lids, designed to let you take last night's chicken soup to work. If you take your lunch to work, plastic may be more appropriate than tempered glass, because it's lighter and more resistant to breaking. Experts recommend buying containers in a variety of sizes, and you can store as little as half an onion or as much as a few portions of stew or lasagna. Buying a container set generally costs less than buying the same containers separately.
Lock & Lock plastic storage containers (*Est. $30 for a 16-piece set) are deemed excellent by professional reviewers and owners alike. A major consumer magazine put these containers through a series of tests, concluding that Lock & Lock plastic storage containers do a good job keeping food fresh, both at room temperature and in the fridge. Their lids have a silicone ring to create a snug seal. Lock & Lock containers nest with the lids attached, reducing cabinet clutter (the rectangular containers have four hinged lids, and you can leave one side attached for storage). In tests, however, microwaving pasta sauce permanently stained them. Hundreds of owners posting to QVC.com say they are happy with these containers, which carry a lifetime warranty, and they note that Heritage, the manufacturer, replaces them swiftly if they break. One major complaint from user reviews at Amazon.com is in the cleaning of the lids. Some users say mold can grow under the silicone ring, and removing it for cleaning is possible, but difficult. Lock & Lock containers are BPA-free; they are also safe to use in the microwave, dishwasher and freezer.
Rubbermaid Easy Find Lids (*Est. $20 for a 24-piece set) plastic storage containers are also highly rated in user reviews. About 70 Amazon.com reviews rank the containers 4.5 stars out of 5, and users at Target.com and Viewpoints.com give similar ratings. The Rubbermaid Easy Find Lids containers come in 10 graduated sizes ranging from half a cup to 2.5 gallons. Their lids are interchangeable with different size base containers and store by snapping directly onto the base, features that are popular with users.
Although positive user reviews for Rubbermaid Easy Find Lids are plentiful, there are very few professional reviews. Bestcovery.com's Mariette Mifflin ranks these containers as her second choice overall for storage container sets for their versatility and durability. But she gives few details on her decision process. This line of containers is BPA-free.
The Rubbermaid Produce Saver (*Est. $6 for a 5-cup container) line of plastic containers is similar to Rubbermaid Easy Find Lids, but instead of being airtight, these containers have vented lids, along with built-in trays that separate produce from pooled condensation. They're available in three sizes: 2-, 5- and 14-cup containers. Reviewers say the 5-cup container can accommodate an entire head of iceberg lettuce. In tests conducted by Real Simple magazine, Rubbermaid Produce Saver kept romaine lettuce from wilting for a week. Like Rubbermaid Easy Find Lids, Produce Saver food storage containers are microwave-, dishwasher- and freezer-safe. Their lids can be stored by snapping onto their bases, reducing cabinet clutter. The Produce Saver line of food storage containers is BPA-free as well.
Popular with consumers, disposable plastic food storage containers are made of thinner plastic than containers like the Lock & Lock, but cost significantly less, less than $1 for a 32-ounce container compared to the estimated $7 of the same sized Lock & Lock. User reviews say these containers are good for storing leftovers and are inexpensive enough to not mind giving away (think holiday gift-giving). Good Housekeeping was the only comprehensive professional review to include these containers in their testing. They tested both the Ziploc Smart Snap Seal (*Est. $3 for four 32 fl. oz. containers) and the Glad Soup & Salad (*Est. $4 for five 24 fl. oz. containers).
The Ziploc Smart Snap comes out on top in other reviews. It ranks fifth in Bestcovery.com's best storage container sets for its affordability and good sizes (eight sizes with bowl, square and rectangle shapes). User reviews at Epinions.com and AssociatedContent.com also praise the Ziploc Smart Snap for ease of use. The design allows users to seal the container with a one-finger push on the lid's center. At AssociatedContent.com, one reviewer says Ziploc Smart Snaps have "transformed my kitchen life." Don't expect a tight seal with these containers. Some users say they break open when dropped. Manufacturers recommend disposing after the seal weakens, which could be a year or more depending upon frequency of use. The Ziploc Smart Snap containers are microwave-, dishwasher- and freezer-safe and are BPA-free.
According to The New York Times, animal studies have linked BPA, a hardening agent, to accelerated puberty, cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Many major manufacturers of children's products have agreed to stop using BPA. In January 2010, the Food and Drug Administration announced that their National Center for Toxicological Research will be conducting more in-depth studies of the harmful effects of BPA. Now that the majority of manufacturers have stopped making storage containers that contain BPA, it's a lot easier to find BPA-free plastics.
To reduce the risk of exposure, experts say you should choose a BPA-free plastic (most are clearly marked), or use glass or metal containers. Metal, however, can react with acidic foods and isn't often used to make food storage containers. Glass containers are heavy, less portable and can cost more than plastic containers. However, many users like the versatility of glass containers because they can be used for food preparation and even serving food in addition to storing it.
Corning Glass Works invented Pyrex in the early 1900s. This material, a specially-treated glass, is resistant to breaking and nearly impervious to heat and stains. It also resists scratching. Pyrex, a trademark of Corning Corp., is very durable and can move easily among freezer, oven and table. It's also heavier than plastic. Reviews for Pyrex Storage Plus Containers (*Est. $40 for a 20-piece set) are mixed. A major kitchenware-review source finds them heavy, hard to handle when hot and unsuitable for liquids because the seal isn't secure. However, hundreds of owners posting to Amazon.com (many of whom bought them because they're BPA-free) love these containers. Pyrex has to be handled carefully to prevent "down-shock," shattering that can occur upon rapid cooling of the glass. To prevent this, avoid placing hot Pyrex dishes directly on a cool surface. Place hot containers on a dry towel instead.
The best reviews for glass containers are for Snapware Glasslock (*Est. $50 for an 18-piece set). Good Housekeeping chooses it as their top pick for glass containers. Editors say the BPA-free, silicone lids snap securely with flaps on all four sides of the container. In tests at Real Simple magazine, food that had been stored for a week in a Glasslock container "tasted as though it had been prepared the night before," and tomato soup didn't stain. Reviewers do say however, that the lids can stain and become stiff when run through the dishwasher. User reviews at Amazon.com have mainly positive comments about the Glasslock containers, giving them a 4 out of 5 star rating. Users say the container lids give a water-tight seal and are multipurpose in that they can be used for preparing and serving food. However, users agree with experts about the containers' stiff lids. One user suggests bending the lid back and forth to make it easier to work with.