Materials for Disposable Carryout Containers

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When it comes to carrying out food, most restaurants, grocery stores and other foodservice institutions provide convenient, disposable takeout containers for their guests. These carryout products are mainly suitable for entrée, snack and “doggy-bag” applications. Material composition is one important factor to consider, depending on your establishment and the primary applications of the containers. Before you buy, check out these suggestions on the type of material you can choose for your business’s carryout containers.

Aluminum Products

aluminium food container
Aluminum is a popular material for carryout items due to its heavy-duty and versatile nature. Acceptable for a variety of applications, aluminum remains sturdy and easily holds heavier food items. Aluminum containers are great choices for dense, heavy foods like burritos or pastas. Round, oblong, and rectangular containers are most common. Plastic lids or foil-laminated board lids typically fit with aluminum containers.

PROS

  • Heavy-duty, multi-purpose and in most cases easily reused or recycled
  • Ideal for cooking, transporting, freezing, reheating and serving
  • Superior insulating abilities
  • Transmits no harmful chemicals to food
  • Store and stack easily

CONS

  • Not safe for use in the microwave
  • Generally more expensive than Styrofoam or plastic containers
  • Most containers require separate purchase for lids

Styrofoam Products

Styrofoam food container
Styrofoam—or more correctly, polystyrene—products have long been controversial due to their inability to biodegrade back into the environment, but they are often winners in the foodservice industry due to their light weight, low cost and exceptional insulation properties. Styrofoam carryout containers can be laminated or unlaminated. Laminated Styrofoam adds increased strength, durability and cut resistant properties intended for heavier take-out items like burgers, pastas and soups. Unlaminated Styrofoam provides a great value for lightweight use, such as for ice cream or for lighter carryout items.

PROS

  • Strong enough to carry full portions without bending
  • Extremely lightweight, minimizing shipping costs
  • Microwave safe
  • Generally less expensive than aluminum, plastic or bioplastic
  • Lids are often included as part of the container itself

CONS

  • Not intended for long-term use
  • Less effective than plastic for keeping foods fresh
  • Not recyclable or biodegradable

Plastic Products

plastic food container
Plastic carryout containers are most commonly used in delis or produce sections. These containers and lids provide a tight seal, keeping foods fresher longer and defending against contaminants. Thin, lightweight containers are perfect for carrying salads or slices of cake, whereas thick, heavy-duty plastic containers are ideal for denser foods like potato salads, pastas and ready-to-eat fruit chunks.

PROS

  • Extremely versatile
  • Soak-proof and cut resistant
  • Most plastics are reusable and recyclable
  • Microwave and dishwasher safe
  • Keep foods fresher longer than aluminum or Styrofoam

CONS

  • Lids usually sold separately
  • Some plastics are not recyclable

Bioplastics

bioplastic food container
Bioplastics are the new wave of disposables in today’s foodservice industry. Bioplastics, also known as PLAs, are made from renewable, raw materials including corn and other plants. They are intended for use as nontoxic, disposable alternatives to Styrofoam and other non-biodegradable products. Bioplastic containers are available as cups and lids or clamshell designs. Learn more

PROS

  • Keep foods fresher longer than plastic or Styrofoam
  • Shows customers a tangible effort to going green
  • Require less energy to produce than common plastics or Styrofoam
  • Non-toxic to the environment
  • Available as carryout containers, dinnerware, utensils and bags

CONS

  • Require specific, sometimes unrealistic recycling centers
  • Compostable only under precise conditions
  • Cannot withstand high temperatures; not microwaveable
  • More expensive than any other container option
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