Mrs. Sell's Blog of Household Management

Food storage: plastic edition

If you recall, a while back I spent a good amount of time transforming my food storage from plastic totes to glass jars. While I don’t regret that decision, I have repurposed many of my old plastic containers, and even purchased some new ones, as my storage needs evolve. Here’s some of what I’ve got going:

sterilite bins

These were my original food storage containers; I think I got them mostly from Wal-Mart. While the specific names and designs are often changed, you can normally find them under the Sterilite brand, sometimes called ‘Ultra-Seal’ or ‘Ultra-Latch.’ They come in a variety of sizes, and all feature a sealing gasket and four latches on the lid to make sure it’s secure. The lids themselves are color-coded; no matter what size the actual container, if the lid color matches the colored rim, it will fit. For example, all three of the red-bordered containers have the same size lid:

sterilite red lids

What originally drew me to these containers was the helpful information on the label. As I’ve mentioned before, choosing the correct size for food storage containers can be problematic. For instance, I know that a regular bag of flour weighs five pounds, because that’s how it’s sold. But what volume is that? For the eyeballing-impaired (me), it is bewildering to stand before an aisle of containers with no idea if the cool-looking container is going to prove (barely) too small for what you need. Sterilite solved that problem for me! In the top photo, the large red container has a capacity of 16 cups, and the label reads ‘Holds one bag of flour.’ Genius! The small blue one reads, ‘Holds one box of baking soda.’ (That one actually held considerably more than that, but it’s the thought that counts, right? At least it wasn’t too small.)

Before I upgraded to glass, I had almost everything in these containers: flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, powdered sugar, corn meal, etc. Now, I’m using them for 1) lesser-used items, or 2) refrigerated items.

#1 When I upgraded to Libbey glass jars on the counter for my most-used things (flour, sugar, oatmeal), I started putting the specialty stuff in the plastic bins in the cabinets: bread and cake flour, and whole-grain flours in the fridge (whole grains go bad faster at room temperature). I guess I don’t mind the using the ugly containers as long as I can’t see them.

#2 I’m not sure why I feel it’s important to keep refrigerated stuff in plastic. Maybe my aesthetic expectations are lower for stuff that’s in the fridge? And it’s probably better to use plastic for stuff that’s going to have condensation on it, so if it slips out of your hand it’ll just bounce.

Speaking of refrigerating flour, I recently bit the bullet and bought several bags of specialty flours from Bob’s Red Mill. They offer a great selection of unusual flours, and they sell small bags so you’re not committed to using up a whole bag of semolina flour, for example. Each bag holds between four and five cups, and the small red Sterilite container was perfect at 5.3 cups. Plus, they stack perfectly and are short enough to easily fit on the shelves of my small fridge. I’ve got a large red (16-cup) container of whole wheat flour in my fridge, too.

In the cabinet (room temperature), I have bread flour and cake flour in a large red (16-cup) and medium red (12.5-cup) containers. The green square is nearly identical to the red medium at 12.6 cups, and the small blue holds 2.5 cups.

Now that I’ve established how much I don’t like plastic bins out in plain view, allow me to completely contradict myself:

flour bin

Since I’ve been doing a lot more baking, I’ve found that a 5-pound bag of flour just doesn’t last me long enough, so I’ve started buying 10-pound bags. The volume of that is over 30 cups, and if it was tricky to find a container for 5 pounds of flour, then it’s even worse for a 10-pound bag. Flour containers seem to come in 5-pound capacity or extra-huge-ginormous-professional-bakery-holds-50-pounds-of-flour-and-is-super-expensive capacity (this is cool, but out of my league). I considered a nice, special flour container like this one, but wondered if I could find something a little cheaper.

All it took was a little thinking outside the box: what you see in the picture is actually a pet food container, sold at Wal-Mart or Target for between $10 and $15. I already had one for the dry cat food (that stuff REEKS), and it really works great. The lid is hinged, so you can just toss it back, and it has a gasket and a sturdy latch. They stack pretty well (I’ve got one for all-purpose flour and one for bread flour), and the plastic is even tinted a little, so some of the light it kept out. There’s room for 10 pounds of flour and then some, so scooping will be easy. They’re light and tough, so leaving them out around a toddler and a cat shouldn’t be a problem.

The pet food container people have the labels figured out, too: instead of volume, they list capacity as ‘4-pound bag of food,’ ’10-pound,’ ’25-pound,’ etc. This is the 10-pound bag capacity (coincidentally).

They also work great for dry pet food. šŸ™‚

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