Food Storage Canisters vs. Plastic Bags: Which Is Better for Food Preservation?

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Food preservation is crucial for making it last and keeping it fresh. For centuries, food was preserved by drying or heavily salting it, before the advent of modern refrigeration techniques. Nowadays, when you reach for something to make a favorite family meal, you want to be sure it will taste its best. Whether preserving the crunch of celery stalks or keeping herbs as tangy as possible, proper food preservation methods are a vital part of a well-equipped kitchen. That’s true whether you’re a professional chef or a home cook who loves making meals for family and friends.

There are many ways to preserve food these days, including plastic bags and food storage canisters. These are two of the most commonplace choices for food preservation available nowadays. Preserving food in canisters that can go on the counter or the pantry shelf is a great way to make food last. Conversely, plastic bags are flexible and economical.

Food preservation may not be the most exciting element of a well-stocked, smoothly-run home kitchen, but it’s a vital one. In this article, we explore which of these two options may be best for you. We give you all the pros and cons so that when the time comes for you to put away the food you just brought home from the market, you’ll be confident that it will last as long as possible!

What are food storage canisters?

Food storage canisters or food storage containers are containers specifically designed for storing various types of food items. They are usually made of glass, food-grade plastic, stainless steel, or another durable material.

For example: consider the canister sets you can buy, often made of ceramic or aluminum, to store dry goods like coffee, tea bags, flour, and sugar. These are attractive as well as functional, so they look pretty sitting on a kitchen counter or pantry shelf. Many of them have vacuum seal tops that really help preserve whatever food is contained within them, and some even have locks to boost the tightness of the lid.

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Benefits of using food storage canisters for food preservation

There are many pluses inherent in using canisters for food preservation. Here is a roundup of their most valuable features:

They offer airtight lids that seal in freshness

The lids of canisters are designed to keep air out, thereby locking in freshness. This is probably their best feature when it comes to food preservation. If oxygen is kept out, whatever food is inside won’t begin to turn or break down. The airtight lid is also made to keep food’s odors in, so when you open the top – to scoop out coffee beans in the morning, for example – the aroma is as fresh and pungent as it was the day you put the food inside. That’s a big bonus!

Canisters are reusable and long-lasting

As we mentioned, food canisters are usually made of materials that are designed to last, including ceramic, stainless steel, or acrylic, to name only three. That means they last a long time and can withstand much handling and even the occasional drop on the kitchen floor! Perhaps the best bonus feature of food storage canisters is that their long life means they’re environmentally friendly. Any product that allows you to reuse it means you’re throwing away fewer items, and that’s good for the planet because it reduces waste.

Clear containers offer visibility

Seeing through the glass or acrylic canister means you know precisely how much of a certain product you have on hand. Not having to open the lid to check your supply of, for example, coffee beans means you only open it when necessary. The less you open a canister, the longer the life of the food inside. You can quickly see what you’ve got on hand and how much, and that contributes to an efficient and organized kitchen.

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Potential drawbacks of food storage canisters for food preservation

Frankly, yes, there are a few minor drawbacks to preserving food in canisters. How serious these drawbacks are depends entirely on how big your kitchen is, and how much storage space you have.

Limited ways to store canisters

Food storage canisters are usually sold as stand-alone items or in sets, and there are several styles that don’t lend themselves to stacking. This means you can’t place some canisters on top of another, even on a tall shelf. Furthermore, their sizes are often determined by a singular purpose. In other words, the canister’s dimensions are made with a particular food in mind, which can limit their flexibility when it comes to storage and may not lend itself to storing something different.

Here’s an example: a canister set designed for coffee, tea, flour, and sugar doesn’t have one in which you can store a long, dried pasta like spaghetti. For that, you’ll need a separate, tall jar. This can mean you end up with five or six canisters lining the pantry shelves, taking up more room than you can spare.

Canisters are heavier than plastic bags

Because food preservation canisters are bulkier than plastic bags, they take up more room. That means they won’t squeeze into a small space between two items on the pantry shelf, the way a plastic bag can.

Here’s a good example: let’s say you’ve got a plastic bag filled with breakfast cereal. It’s going to fit in a variety of spaces, unlike a canister filled with cereal. That has to have a set amount of room. So, if your kitchen shelves or pantry space are limited, canisters might not be practical for your food preservation needs.

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What are plastic bags?

Plastic bags are lightweight, flexible bags manufactured out of a variety of plastics, including polyethylene. Plastic bags are used for wrapping a wide array of goods, such as clothing, groceries, and other consumer products. They are commonly found in different sizes, from small sandwich bags to larger shopping bags. Plastic bags may come with handles or simple loops that let you easily tote them from a store to home.

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Benefits of using plastic bags for food preservation

Here’s a roundup of the biggest benefits of using plastic bags to store food:

They are flexible and save space

Plastic bags can be contorted, so to speak, into lots of space-saving shapes. You can squeeze a bag of pasta into a small area on a pantry shelf, in a space much smaller than a canister would fit. Also, plastic bags come in a large array of sizes, from small ones that hold something the size of an avocado to big ones that hold a week’s worth of fresh fruit or a thick cut of meat. And because they can be rolled or folded together, having a large number of them on hand doesn’t require a lot of storage space.

Plastic bags are light and easy to store, and these features make them a great choice for storing food.

They’re economical and available almost everywhere

Two great things about plastic bags are that you can buy them almost anywhere – grocery stores, hardware stores, convenience stores, and elsewhere. And they’re cheap! If you’re looking to stick to a budget, and don’t have a lot of storage space but need to preserve food, plastic bags are a terrific option.

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Potential drawbacks of plastic bags for food preservation

Yes, and here’s a look at what those drawbacks are:

Plastic bags don’t seal tightly

This food preservation option doesn’t offer the same air-tight seal as a canister or jar. Consequently, air and moisture can get into the food, which leads to spoilage, particularly if you’re storing fruits, baked goods, or leftovers.

Plastic bags contribute to pollution

Everyone today worries about how their actions impact the planet, and if you’re cutting down on single-use plastic, this isn’t the right choice for you. Unless you are scrupulous about recycling plastic, there’s no denying that using it for food preservation does contribute to plastic waste.

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Considerations between food storage canisters and plastic bags

When deciding between food storage canisters and plastic bags for food preservation, it is important to consider several factors. Here are some points of comparison and key considerations to help you make an informed choice:

Effectiveness of food preservation

Food storage canisters for food preservation are, overall, considered more effective than plastic bags. Canisters have lots of benefits that outweigh plastic bags, including tighter-fitting lids that preserve food for longer periods. Plastic bags just don’t seal as well as canisters do.

But if you’re just keeping a plate of leftovers in the fridge overnight, a plastic bag works just fine. Still, generally speaking, canisters work best for food preservation, particularly if you’re storing something for a week or longer, like flour, breakfast cereal, coffee beans, or pasta.

Suitability for different types of food

Does the food you’re storing make a difference? It does!

For example: let’s say you’re storing a steak in the fridge until tomorrow when you’ll put it in the oven or on the barbecue. Putting it into a plastic bag, or layering a sheet of plastic wrap over the top, works just fine. The same applies to storing a plate of leftovers in the fridge – a plastic bag works well. In fact, in many instances, plastic bags are terrific for short-term food preservation.

And plastic bags may work even better than other choices with certain foods, like lettuce or loose spinach, or mixed greens. Putting those foods in a lightly tied plastic bag in your veggie drawer is a great way to ensure they last for several days or a week.

On the other hand, canisters are ideal for storing dry goods, perishables, and refrigerated items that require airtight storage. They offer better protection against moisture, pests, and odors, preserving the quality of the food. What’s important to remember here is this: consider the foods you want to preserve, and make a decision based on their structure and “best before” due date.

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Environmental impact

The more reusable a food preservation method is, the better it is for the environment. If that’s your biggest concern, then food storage canisters are probably the best choice for you. However, plastic bags are really convenient, and they take up almost no space when storing them – that’s a big plus in a small kitchen! And they are very inexpensive. So, which one to choose? Canisters that help food stay fresh longer, or plastic bags, that store easily in a small space? From an environmental perspective, there’s no question that durable food preservation canisters are the best option.

However, some plastic bags are made from environmentally friendly materials, such as hemp. If you choose one of these, especially if it can be reused, the environmental impact is considerably lessened.

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If you compare these two solutions for food preservation – canisters and plastic bags – the former is best overall. Canisters seal in freshness and keep food tasting great for a longer period, and their environmental impact is much lower than plastic bags. But there are instances in which plastic is a good choice, such as when you’re covering a plate of leftovers and refrigerating them until the next day. In that case, using a plastic bag is perfectly fine.

In the end, whether you choose to buy canisters or plastic bags depends largely on what’s appropriate for your food preservation needs. Perhaps a combination of the two is the ideal solution for you – canisters for storing dry goods like coffee and pasta, and plastic bags for keeping meat or veggies fresh in the fridge. Take into consideration all the factors we’ve mentioned here, and no doubt you’ll make the right choice for all your food preservation needs.

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