Commercial Food Storage Containers Buying Guide
An organized pantry, fridge and freezer can save valuable time and reduce food costs in busy foodservice kitchens. Being able to quickly see inventory levels, be assured ingredients are safe and secure, maximizing shelf life, and maximizing use of storage space is one less thing you and your staff need to think about.
To be clear, the food storage containers we are discussing here are not the same as plastic food pans also called cold food pans or steam tables pans. These are the containers your customers (typically) never see - they are all for your convenience.
But not all food storage containers work in all situations. Shapes, sizes, materials and features are important considerations in your buying decision. Use our buying guide to determine which one – or who are we kidding, you will need many – best suit your operation's needs.
The most common food storage container materials are plastic and that makes sense from a functional standpoint being lightweight and offering a multitude of benefits and features compared to using stainless steel, glass or ceramic. All of the plastic materials can handle a range of temperatures allowing your ingredients and their containers to be stored in the freezer, refrigerator or pantry.
Polypropylene is the most cost-effective option of the kinds of plastic used for food storage containers. It is translucent, shatterproof and BPA free.
Polyethylene is a white plastic material that can withstand the challenges of constant use. Extremely durable, stain resistant and can handle a wide range of temperatures.
Polycarbonate is a crystal-clear material, strong and sturdy and perfect for use in high-volume commercial kitchens.
|Polyethylene||white||$||-40°F - 160°F|
|Polypropylene||translucent||$$||-40°F - 160°F|
|Polycarbonate||clear||$$$||-40°F - 210°F|
Sizes and Shapes
Food storage containers, commercial grade versions, can range in size from 0.5 quarts to 10 gallons or more. And the size is measured by capacity or the total volume of product or ingredients the container can hold.
The types and volumes of ingredients you use are deciding factors in the best size and shape of food storage containers. But also consider the full yields of your prepared recipes.
Remember your staff when picking sizes – although you may fit a full batch of prepped potatoes in water in a container, the total weight might be too much for your staff, especially if they are expected to lift onto shelves and counters. You might be best to split between two containers.
For rounds and square containers as the capacity increases so does the height and sometimes the diameter/width. In some cases, that means that two or three containers of different capacities of the same shape use the same lids.
Rectangular containers, typically called food boxes or food storage boxes, are sized by industry standard measurements like Full Size, Half Size, etc but can also have the measurements. Containers of the same size (26” x 18” for example) can have varying depths to allow for increased capacities. Most also have a capacity measurement. Using industry standard measurement means they fit the standard carts and racks that permeate commercial kitchens.
Round – allows proper circulation which increases the ability to cool or freeze large quantities of foods safely and quickly.
Square - requiring less space than traditional rounds, square food storage containers are an industry staple. Also means they hold more product in a smaller amount of space.
Rectangular- a popular shape for convenient stacking and racking, rectangular shape is used for food storage boxes and bins, dough boxes and ingredient bins.
Measurements – graduated measurements on the outside and/or inside of the containers can help chefs and staff quickly assess inventory levels of key ingredients. Reduce the need to move products and ingredients between containers and measuring tools.
Handles – of less importance in smaller capacities, once you get to the larger capacities, handles are imperative for safety and stability when moving and transporting full containers around the kitchen areas. Molded, built-in is what you will see.
Staining - resistance to staining is imperative foodservice kitchens, especially in working with acid foods.
Stackable - empty and full to minimize the amount of space they take up when not in use, but maximize available space when full. Requires sturdy lids to avoid cross-contamination. For food storage containers to be stackable features like stacking lugs are necessary to be able to easily get the containers apart.
Cleaning - dishwasher safe is a must have (even if you may not have a commercial dishwasher) then you know they hand handle the abusive temperatures, wear and tear of foodservice kitchens.
Colour-coded – can mean two things. 1. when the writing/printing on the container matches the colour of the lid. 2. The plastic is tinted (but still transparent) in the box and lid to assist with organization and as a further quick reference quide for ingredients.
Allergens – managing allergens in busy commercial kitchens can be difficult. Therefore many manufacturers have designed lines using a distinctive colour system (purple is most common) to help operators quickly segregate ingredients and prepared foods.
Labels – panels designed for easy identification and dating of ingredients and prepared foods. Otherwise, stock up on food rotation labels to keep your inventory moving in the right direction.
Not all lids are the same. Different materials and styles have unique features that could help your kitchen staff. Be aware that certain materials and styles only fit specific food storage containers.
Seal – as the name implies, these lids are tight-fitting and resist spills. Double seals (inner and outer) help to achieve spill resistance. Some specialized lids are available that provide a leak free seal.
Snap-On - again, as the name implies these lids snap into place do not provide an airtight fit. Perfect for busy kitchens that prefer a quick on and off of the lids while still providing protection from cross contamination and prolonging shelf life.
Covers - not quite a snap-on but still offering protection from cross contamination and increasing the shelf life of your products and ingredients.
Specialty lids/covers – when you get into food storage boxes, there are a variety of lids and covers available. Including hinged and slide lids allowing access without the need to completely remove the cover.
Colanders/Drain Boxes – designed for use with food storage boxes, these colanders or drain boxes are the same dimensions as the box just a slightly shallower depth to allow for drainage. This feature promotes increased air circulation and keeps liquids separate from products to keep foods fresh. Also a great option for thawing.
Drain Grates - designed for use with food storage boxes, these grates sit in the bottom of the box. This raises the product/ingredients off the bottom. The benefit is increased air circulation (great for keeping product crisp and fresh) and allowing juices and liquids to drip.
Some manufacturers offer complete colander kits including the food storage box, colander/drain box and the lids. You can also find kits with a food storage box, drain grate and lid – sometimes referred to as a produce crisper or produce storage container. Some manufacturers even have kits that contain a filter to maximize produce shelf life.
Specialty Food Storage Containers
Dough Boxes – rectangular boxes, typically made of polypropylene designed for proofing dough – pizza or otherwise. With matching lids and their ability to be safely stacked, these storage containers are a space saver for pizzerias and bakeries and other kitchens making dough or at least proofing dough. The lids keep the dough from drying out/crusting while proofing.
Ingredient Bins – rectangular in shape and ranging in size from 1 qt to 31 gallon or more these specialty food storage containers are made for storing while allowing repeated access to ingredients. Slide or hinged openings and FIFO features for inventory management make these bins a must have for high-volume kitchens, bakeries and foodservice operations. Shelf style and mobile (with castors) are available.
No matter what food ingredients you are buying or what foods you are preparing for your menu, the proper food storage containers with the right lid can maximize the quality and shelf life of your inventory.