Are Plastic Bags Safe for Food Storage?

If you’ve stored any amount of food in plastic buckets and mylar bags, then you’ve probably asked yourself once or twice if it’s safe to store food in them long term. People are storing food in plastic bags and may not even be thinking about it.

Storing food in plastic bags may not be safe. Improper storage of food in plastic bags can lead to bacterial growth, the introduction of bugs and rodents, and chemical leaching from the plastic itself.

Many people assume that all plastic bags are safe for food storage, but that isn’t the case. Some are fine to store food in and others contain a wide range of toxic chemicals that can possibly leach into your food.

Is plastic Safe for Food Storage?

Plastic containers will usually have a number on them that will tell you if they are safe for use with food. The different ways that the plastics are made mean they contain all kinds of chemicals, some are relatively benign and others are known to be poisonous.

The safest materials to store food in are containers made of materials that won’t leach chemicals like glass.

Resin Identification Code (RIC)

The RIC is a way to identify the type of resin used to make plastic products. For our purposes, we’ll be using it as a way to determine if it’s safe for food storage or not.

Plastics #2, 4 and 5 are safe for use with food and water.


Plastics #1 and 7 can be used but should be avoided if possible.


Plastics #3 and 6 should not be used as they can leach toxic chemicals into your food and water.

Polyethylene Terephthalate

Plastic #1 – Is known as PET, PETE, PETP, or PET-P. It’s a plastic resin and a form of polyester.

It’s the most common form of thermoplastic polymer resin and is used in containers for liquids and foods, fibers in clothing, and mixed with fiberglass to make different types of engineering resins.

Health Concerns: There are studies that show #1 plastic can leach antimony into water if it’s placed in heat for a long period of time. It doesn’t have any BPA or Phthalates but if you’re using it to store any food or water, it’s best to keep it out of the heat.

PETE plastic is intended for one-time use only. Cleaning chemicals and high temperatures can cause chemicals to leach into out of the plastic.

High-Density Polyethylene

Plastic #2 – High-density polyethylene (HDPE) or polyethylene high-density (PEHD) is a thermoplastic polymer produced from petroleum. It is sometimes called “alkathene” or “polythene” when used for HDPE pipes.

It’s known for its high strength-to-density ratio, HDPE is used in making plastic bottles, corrosion-resistant piping, geomembranes, and plastic lumber. You can also find it being used in the packaging of laundry detergent, milk jugs, folding chairs, and tables.

Health Concerns: HDPE can be dangerous during the manufacturing process but it’s not considered dangerous in its final form.

Polyvinyl Chloride

Plastic #3 – Polyvinyl chloride (commonly known as PVC) is the third most common thermoplastic polymer used in the world.

It’s used in the construction of pipes, doors, windows, bottles, non-food packaging, food-covering sheets, and credit cards. It can be made softer and more flexible by the addition of plasticizers, the most widely used being phthalates. In its rubberized form, it is used in plumbing, electrical cable insulation, imitation leather, and flooring.

It’s also commonly used in shower curtains, waterbeds, inflatables, clothing and cling wrap. All of these can release toxic chemicals into food, water, and the air.

Health Concerns: PVC is known to release chemicals that cause hormone changes and birth defects.

Low-Density Polyethylene

Plastic #4 – Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) is a thermoplastic made from petroleum. It’s common across the world and can be found in trays and general-purpose containers, corrosion-resistant surfaces, soft lids like snap-on lids, six-pack rings, and juice and milk containers, plastic bags, and some packaging materials.

Health Concerns: Due to the way it’s made, LDPE is non-toxic in its final form.


Plastic #5 – Polypropylene (PP) also known as polypropene, is a thermoplastic polymer used in a wide variety of applications.

PP is used in the manufacture of piping, plumbing, carpets, rugs, mats, yogurt and margarine tubs, plastic cups and baby bottles, kitchenware and microwavable plastic containers and lids.

Health Concerns: Most items made from PP are microwave safe and dishwasher safe.


Plastic #6 – Polystyrene (PS) is a petroleum-based plastic that can be either solid or foamed. It’s widely used but has a very low melting point. It’s used in foam cups, to-go packaging, egg cartons, disposable cutlery, packaging, and insulation.

Health Concerns: Styrene is considered to be a carcinogen by the EPA.


Plastic #7 is the catch-all for the remaining plastics such as acrylic, nylon, polycarbonate and polylactic acid (PLA).

It is commonly used to label Polycarbonate (PC). The letters PC may be present with the recycling symbol, which would indicate that the product is made with polycarbonate.

Polycarbonate is derived from BPA. Polycarbonate is found in electrical wiring, CD/DVD cases, baby bottles, 3 and 5-gallon reusable bottles.

Health Concerns: BPA has been found to be an endocrine disruptor.

Safest Plastics

Plastics with a RIC of 2, 4, and 5 are the safest. If you can choose any type of plastic, you should try to find one of those.

It’s not the end of the world if you can’t, you’re not going to get sick right away. In a survival situation, this shouldn’t play into your plans much, if at all, but when you have a choice it’s better to stay away from the worst plastics.

What is BPA?

BPA stands for bisphenol A. It’s an industrial chemical used in making a wide range of plastics and resins dating all the way back to the 60’s.

According to the Mayo Clinic, BPA can seep into foods and beverages from containers containing BPA. Being exposed to it can cause problems with the brains of fetuses, infants and children. It’s also thought that it can affect a child’s behavior and cause increased blood pressure.

Surprisingly enough, it’s used a wide range of food and beverage containers, it’s even used in some dental sealants.

What is Mylar?

Mylar is a type of plastic that’s made out of a PET resin. The name Mylar specifically refers to a DuPont product, but it’s widely used to describe all plastics that are similar.

In food storage, Mylar bags are one of the most commonly used types of bag to store food over long periods. This is because they keep the food safe from sunlight, moisture, rodents, oxygen, and heat. All of these things will ruin or shorten the life of your food storage.

It’s always best to store your food in a food-safe plastic bucket with a sealed lid after you’re bagged it.

Are Garbage Bags Safe for Food Storage?

Needless to say, garbage bags aren’t designed to store food in them. The real question is can garbage bags be used to store food if that’s all we have?

I can see the desire to throw your rice and beans into a garbage bag. It’s much easier than sealing them in mylar bags with oxygen absorbers and it seems like it could keep bug and other pests out pretty well. Unfortunately, it isn’t the ideal situation for a number of reasons.

The first reason is that the bags normally aren’t made of food-grade plastics and can possibly leach chemicals int your food. Even more important, is that they won’t do much to keep pests and moisture out. It’s all-around a bad idea.

Are Plastic Storage Bags Safe?

Plastic storage bags (AKA Ziplock bags) are usually made from food-grade plastics and can be used to store food in the short term. They really aren’t ideal for long term storage of food though.

Do Plastic Bags Contain Chemicals?

This is a pretty simple yes. If you’ve made it this far, you know that plastic bags contain all kinds of chemicals.

We’re really not worried that they contain chemicals though. We’re more concerned that the chemicals they’re made of don’t make it into our food or water while they sit around for 25 years.

Related Questions

Are Ziploc bags BPA free? All Ziplock bags are BPA and dioxin-free, which are some of the chemicals that most people are afraid of when using plastic. They are made with the same material that plastic bags designed for cook are made of.

What is the most toxic plastic? Stay away from plastic code 3! This is the most hazardous form of plastic. It contains BPA, lead, phthalates, mercury, dioxins and cadmium. If it is burnt, it releases dioxins, one of the most toxic chemicals out there. They can cause cancers and are organic pollutants.

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