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How can I tell if a bucket is food grade?

April 16, 2012 at 1:20 PM

A few weeks ago, we discussed the various types of food grade plastic buckets.  These are buckets that allow you to store food like grains and dried beans in large amounts and in a lightweight manner. People use this as an opportunity to buy in bulk and protect it in an insect-proof and airtight container.

So how can you tell if  the plastic bucket you’re using is safe for storing food? Use the following methods to identify whether they are food grade.

On the bottom of the bucket, there should be a recycling symbol, which also contains a recycling number between 1 and 7. This number will be stamped between a triangle of arrows. Generally speaking, the numbers that denote food grade standards are 1, 2, 4, and 5.

Those displaying a number 2 are made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE). This is arguably the best type of plastic for use in long-term food storage as it is one of the most stable and inert forms of plastic. You should be assured that all plastic buckets sold specifically for storing food will probably be made from HDPE.

Those that display the numbers 1, 4, and 5 are alternative types of food grade plastic: PETE, LDPE, and polypropylene (PP) respectively.

There is however an exception to the rule, which is bio-plastics, and these are denoted by the all-encompassing number 7 category. Bio-plastics are similar to normal plastics but are in fact synthesized from plant-based material such as corn. These ‘plastics’ are non-reactive and can therefore be used for storing food. (IMPORTANT- not all plastics marked with a 7 are bio-plastics.

Check for any food-handling symbols that may be printed on the plastic bucket. A standardized system of symbols is applied, indicating whether they are OK to use around food"

  • the symbol of a cup and fork means that the plastic container is suitable for storing food i.e. a food grade bucket,
  • a symbol showing radiating waves means that the container is microwave-safe,
  • a symbol that shows some dishes in water in turn means that the food grade plastic container is  dishwasher-safe,
  • a snowflake means that the plastic container  is fine for freezing foods in.


Another suitable precaution, when buying new,  is to check the label on the plastic buckets as these should indicate if the plastic is food grade. In fact, if the bucket you’re purchasing is more expensive than a standard bucket, this is indicative of food grade plastic and it should be marked accordingly. Obviously buying straight from H&O Plastics will ensure that food grade buckets are supplied as specified in the order.

If you’re not buying new, it’s safer to use buckets that have already been used for storing food in. This would usually indicate that the plastic bucket was initially designed as a food container and it’s reasonable to assume that it still will be.

Category: plastic food containers

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