Safe Plastics For Food and Drink

June 12, 2012, by Ken Jorgustin


Plastics that come in contact with your food or drink ‘should’ be safe based on the following general information. Look for the Recycle symbol (often on the bottom of the container) and read the number located inside the symbol. The following list cross-references the recycle number with what is generally considered safe or not safe.


Plastics that are generally considered safe for food and drink

  • #2 HDPE  (high density polyethylene) *see note below
  • #4 LDPE  (low density polyethylene)
  • #5 PP  (polypropylene)


Risky plastics that may leach or have hazardous ingredients

  • #3 PVC  (polyvinyl chloride) carcinogens during manufacture and incineration
  • #6 PS  (polystyrene) possible carcinogen
  • #7 other  (usually polycarbonate, sometimes labeled PC)  may leach BPA (Bisphenol-A)


Common single use water bottle or soft drink container

  • #1 PETE  (polyethylene terephthalate) typical water or soda bottles, not designed for reuse or storage, but if properly cleaned they are OK. Varying reports regarding BPA leaching over time.


Typical 5 gallon ‘food grade’ buckets are made of #2 HDPE, and are opaque, not allowing light to penetrate, while often advertised or labeled as ‘food grade’. The typical ‘blue’ water storage containers or barrels are also made of high density polyethylene (#2 HDPE). The thing is, if you will be storing food directly in the bucket or if you will be using the container for drinking water,  be sure to verify the material is safe before you purchase. Be safe.


To be safe, the buckets that you choose to use for food storage should be ‘food grade’ (unless you are inserting sealed Mylar bags).

All food grade buckets are made of HDPE #2 (high density polyethylene) but not all HDPE #2 buckets are food grade. Buckets that are not food grade will out-gas and leach into the container, and whatever is in the container.

HDPE #2 buckets that are not food grade will have been manufactured with a non-food-grade “mold release agent”.

A mold release agent is what is used to help get the newly shaped plastic off of the hard mold that it was shaped from during the manufacturing process. Without the release agent, the new plastic shape will likely stick to the mold. Some mold release agents enable much faster production than others, but may be toxic to your health if later used with food stuffs.

If the bucket is marked specifically as food grade or USDA approved (or FDA or NSF approved), then it is food grade. Otherwise contact the supplier or manufacturer to confirm.


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