While they have just one relatively simple function to fulfill, food storage containers can perform preposterously poorly. They leak, they crack, they let contents become stale and moldy, and they’re notoriously hard to clean. Still, being aware of potential shortcomings doesn’t always make it easier to know what you’re looking for in a new container, nor easier to judge its quality before trying it out.
With concerns rising about the health risks of various plastics, glass has grown more popular. "I think you should store everything in glass," says Grant Donnelly, who works in the vast bulk-foods department at Rainbow Grocery Cooperative in San Francisco. "Often plastic containers let air in, and the food spoils. Plus, glass looks pretty." At home, Donnelly has his own mini bulk area, where he keeps everything in old-fashioned mason jars.
On the other hand, some circumstances require a less fragile material. Ava Roy, a transcontinental sailor, lives at sea up to six weeks at a time. "Plastic containers that seal well with clasps or snaps work great," she says. "But you have to separate your supplies into small portions so you don’t set yourself up to lose everything at once."
Even back on dry land, nobody likes to see good food go to waste. With the right set of containers, stored goods not only last longer, they become display-worthy, with beans, grains, fruits, and snacks producing a palette more interesting than any paint-store purchase. Of course, no container can prevent abandoning leftovers in the back of the fridge. Frequent food forgetters, beware: A good container may fail to release the pungent reminders you depend on.
When not working in design, Sarah Rich writes, talks and forecasts about food and consumer culture.