Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Rubbermaid Easy Find Food Containers: Cool Gear

A good set of food storage containers for refrigerator use is almost a necessity for a kitchen: we all want to be able to store food in the refrigerator (or the freezer) in multiple form factors. We want our containers to stack on top of each other when full, and to have the most efficient shapes inside the refrigerator/ freezer (i.e.,  most likely rectangular). We want them to nest inside each other and stack when stored empty. We want to be able to find the right lid easily, rather than having to empty a whole shelf or drawer in order to find the right lid for the container... We want to be able to take them from the freezer to the microwave oven to the refrigerator, and, of course, we want to wash them in the dishwasher. We want them to be safe to use, which, for many people, requires that they should be BPA-free. We could keep on going with a much longer set of wished-for attributes...

It turns out that, even for satisfying a short wish list, the right set of food containers is very difficult to find. We were therefore particularly pleased when we found an excellent product in the category, which scores very high in almost all (although not quite all) criteria: Rubbermaid Easy Find Food Storage Containers. We have been testing them at for almost a year, and our ratings agree with the very large majority of the users who have reviewed it on line. We went through over 270 reviews and gathered the most significant comments for you.

The product is robust and sturdy. It does not feel flimsy at all, like a throwaway plastic container, and has heft: "bliss. I have finally thrown out the mishmash collection of Glad and Hefty brand food storage containers cluttering my cupboards and replaced them with STABLE, STURDY locking/stacking lids and containers of this Rubbermaid system! How interesting the simple things can make one's day! I love these. Love. Love", "good sturdy system", "these are fantastic... sturdy", "containers are nice and sturdy", "it lasts and lasts. Cannot say enough about it",  "I am very happy with the fit and finish of these containers."
Some users prefer another Rubbermaid product line, called Premier, with premium features: "however, the containers themselves are not as good quality as some of the other Rubbermaid [Premier] containers that I have purchased at the local super-market. The lids are all plastic unlike some of the others with a rubber type border to the lid that seems to make a tighter seal. The plastic the containers are made of is cloudy and not the translucent of some others. They generally don't look or handle as expensive as they were", "I wish I ordered the Rubbermaid Premier brand instead of these. These containers are a great idea but the plastic is still plastic.  Do yourself a favor and spend the extra few dollars on the Rubbermaid Premier set (It is still part of the easy find lid system but has a quality heavy duty hard plastic)."  However, the Premier line, while an excellent product line, suffers from other issues, and does not have as high an approval rating as Easy Find does.  

More brittle when very cold
While the Easy Find containers get a great reputation for sturdiness, when coming straight out of the freezer or the refrigerator they can be more brittle. They can get damaged if they take a bad fall when very cold: "leftovers - second set on top - seals together ... when using in freezer - may come loose - hit floor and edges break - You're out the base containers", "when my wife dropped a small lid, the tab broke off!", "Plastic becomes more rigid and more brittle and susceptible to breaking when frozen solid. I 'klutzilly' dropped several of these filled containers out of my freezer one day which chipped the wide lips on a few of them when they hit the floor. Even this abuse didn't affect the usability of them or even the lid-sealing capabilities of the 2 chipped containers, but I'm now more careful when they're heavy and frozen solid." We believe this problem to be true of all plastic containers today.

Stacking and organization
Users rave about how easy it is to organize your food storage with this family of products. Empty lidless containers nest in a stack on top of each other as high as you want, and lids snap on top of each other as well. Containers can also snap on top of lids, so that, if you wish to, you can keep all containers of the same size in a nested stack, snapped on top of their lids. After experimenting with several schemes, we prefer to store the empty containers in a nested stack, and keep all the lids vertical in a small box next to the stacks of containers.
Users love these stacking capabilities: "great product and a great space saver", "my cabinet for storage containers was an unsearchable mess. It was just like in the commercial where the lady opens the doors and a river of plastic fall out. Now everything fits together in neat stacks. No more searching. No bowl filled with lids. It's great", "this product is a must have, if you are looking 4 easy storage. You will not have to look for or wonder which top belong to which bottom (no pun intended) ","this is a good sturdy system that replaces the mismatched and missing, as must be done every five years or so. If you store them stacked as they come in the box, it is quite an efficient use of space", "a must have to improve space in the kitchen and dump all those free bees from the Chinese store", "fantastic, lids are always on shelf neatly stacked - most important a great way to store foods in and out of the fridge", " stack great. Never misplace a lid again with the way they click together, or you clip them to the bottom of the bowl. I love these, and it's one of the best purchases I have made in a while!! fits a lot of my needs, unfortunately I have a lot of needs so I'm considering buying another set", "we have had a variety of food storage containers and these are by far the best.. They are easy to store in our cabinets", "I've never kept my plasticware so organized", "this product is great. It has allowed me to free up a lot of space in the cabinet that used to house all of the various plastic containers collected over the years. Now I have a neat stack with lids attached", "lids are always handy", "this new product is just the best!! ... super easy to store", "I love this set of Tupperware because they nest and the tops all click together. No more messy Tupperware drawers where you can't find the tops to anything!"

Multiple container sizes per lid size
The line comes in 3 primary opening sizes, 5"x5", 7"x7", and 9.4" x 9.4", with a smaller size (3"x3") and a larger size (16.5"x16.5") also available. There are two or three depths per size, but all the containers with the same opening size can use the same lids, which means that, with three types of lids, you can cover all of your primary sizes of products: " except for the smallest container, one size lid works with two or more different sizes of containers (a real time saver and hassle eliminator)", "size selection is perfect", "sizes of the containers are nice", "1/2 cup and 2 cups sizes are very useful."
The 5"x5" comes in 1.25 and 2 cup sizes, while the 7x7" comes in 3 cup, 5 cup, and 7 cup sizes,  and the 9.4"x9.4" comes in 9 cup and 14 cup sizes. For truly large storage needs, the larger 16.5"x16.5" comes in 1.5 gal. and 2.5 gal. sizes, while, at the very small end, the 3"x3" comes in a single 0.5 cup size. We find the combination of 5"x5" and 7x7" to be perfect for singles and couples, while average families will want to add the 9.4"x9.4" size containers.

Stacking and organization issues
They are very few. When full, containers can also stack in the refrigerator, container to lid. One user finds this to be a problem: "leftovers - second set on top - seals together - then when a child removes from fridge - out 'both' come - lids come loose and all over the floor with a very sad child standing there."  - and when using in freezer - may come loose - hit floor and edges break - You're out the base containers - "
A few users mention that it takes some pressure to snap the containers on top of the lids: " One thing is that it takes a little pressure to get the stack of lids to click into the stack of containers, but it's not a big deal", "The only problem I have had is that sometimes it is hard to snap the lids in place"

Lid fit/ seal
 Many user commented on the good fit between lids and container: "lids stay on very well", "The lids connect great", The lids fit on the containers perfectly.", The containers themselves do not fit easily to the lids on the bottom fits ever so snug." We tested our containers and lids randomly over a six month period by filling them with water and setting them on their side: none of them leaked for us. However, some users have seen leaks: "unless I keep them completely level on the shelf in the fridge, they leak a bit", "It appeared to be a tight seal but as soon as I picked it up and it sloshed around on my way to the fridge my soup spilled all over", "the lids do not fit properly and they leak if turned sidewards in transit to work." Our conclusion is that leaking container/ lid combination may happen in a small number of cases, and that they probably should get returned to the manufacturer. Since the lids do not lock on the containers, they should not be used for in situations where there is a high likelihood that the containers will be on their side and that motion may induce the lids to slightly dislodge themselves. For these uses, a locking container would be the appropriate solution.

Freezer - fridge - microwave - dishwasher safe
Many users comment on the fact that Easy Find containers can *really* go into the freezer, microwave and dishwasher:  "you really can use the microwave and dishwasher without damage", "dishwasher safe do not warp", "I have put these in the dishwasher... No warped lids or clouded containers! See? Bliss. (Don't laugh ;)", "resist the refrigerator, microwave", "chucked out all the old odd ones and lids that never fit once you put them in dishwasher." We have also found that the Easy Find line took easily to freezer, microwave and dishwasher - but we are careful to wash the containers with oily residue on the inside by hand. When heating food inside the container, we were careful not to leave the lid on, and we avoided bringing the food inside to a very high temperature. Clearly, there are some for whom microwaving did not work as well: "I heated a few things in them and the plastic became discolored and cloudy/bubbled like the cheapy brands do", "I reheated some chicken chili in one of them without the lid using a microwave and after washing I noticed that where top of the chili reached that the plastic was etched. Almost like pitting", "if you're using these just for storing food, they're excellent. HOWEVER, if you want to reheat that food, beware. You should switch to glassware like Pyrex or stoneware", " the covers are very difficult to put on after the microwave warps them", "twice they have deformed in the microwave while cooking in under a minute and a half." In our experience, using the containers and lids in the dishwasher has been fine, but we have seen some etching occur once with an oily container. We have used these containers extensively in the microwave with their top off and have not had any problems, although we imagine that over-heating an oily container could possibly create problems.

No stains
While Rubbermaid does not guarantee these containers against tomato spots, many users comment that they do not get stained in general, and from tomatoes in particular: " washing them is rather easy. does not get stain nor does it keep food smell", "does not stain from sauces", "my absolute favorite part is it does not stain from red sauce!! Reheating last nights spaghetti? No problem! There will be no stain left behind!", "we've stored tomato foods in them then microwaved and no stains occur." A few users disagree: " they get stained easily",  "they pick up a bit of white residue in the dishwasher (high-end Bosch with Electrosol tabs) after many washes."
We have been surprised by the fact that our containers have remained colorless for a year so far, even when exposed to tomato-based sauces. In the end, based on the preponderance of evidence, we feel that these containers have superior resistance to spots, although that there are certainly circumstances when they can spot. Premier Rubbermaid containers, already mentioned above, are advertised as tomato-stain free, although they can get stained from other sources (such as curry). Altogether, we feel that the resistance to stain offered by Easy Find containers is very good, in particular if you wash containers with very oily sauces by hand.

Drying lids
While many users rave about the fact that these containers can be washed in the dishwasher, some users mention that the lids retain water because of their sealing shapes, and that the container bottoms can do so as well: "if washing these items by hand and drying in a dish rack, the lids definitely do hold water, as with the other more temporary plastic storage lids", "because of that snap on feature, both the bottoms of the containers and the lids hold water when you wash them in the dishwasher", " after washing them, have to be careful to not snap them all together if they haven't dried completely. Could trap water in between the lids."

BPA and phtalate free
BPA (Bisphenol A) and phtalates are chemicals which are suspected to disrupt endocrine functions even at very low concentration levels, and could be particularly impactful on children. Both of them have prominently figured in the news lately. Contrarily to many other plastics manufacturers, Rubbermaid has been very forward in discussing which of its products contain BPA: it provides a reference page that lists of all its products and describes whether they contain BPA (the use of the plastic recycling number to figuring out whether a product is at risk of containing BPA is highly inaccurate). Rubbermaid states that Easy Find containers contain no BPA or phtalates.
In November 2008, however, Good Housekeeping published a Report on Safe Food Storage Plastics which stated, among other things, that an independent laboratory had found low levels of BPA in Easy Find containers, although none appeared to leach in food when heated. Rubbermaid vigorously denied the claim, and stated that, after the report's publication, they also had a third partly lab analyze Easy Find containers, and that the lab had not found detectable amounts of BPA. While we in no way question the honesty of Good Housekeeping, Rubbermaid is one of the few companies that have been proactive and willing to discuss the presence of BPA in its products, and we believe Rubbermaid's assertions that the line is BPA- and phtalate-free. Either way, the Good Housekeeping report also mentions that there was no detection of BPA leaching into food. This Amazon review discusses BPAs and Easy Find containers.

Rubber maid Produce Savers Food Containers
Produce Savers
Rubbermaid carries another line, called Produce Saver, with lids that admit some air, and spacers on the bottom to isolate fresh produce from water at the collecting bottom of the container. Interestingly, this line is compatible in size with Easy Find, and lids and containers are interchangeable (despite a comment to the contrary in one of the user reviews).

Approval rating
We collected a large number of user reviews for the Rubbermaid Easy Find storage containers, for a total of 273 reviews, with an excellent global approval rating of 88%. The broad sample of reviews we drew upon gave us a small 4% margin of error with 95% certainty. This is a an excellent score for user approval ratings, in a category where users are very picky about their reviews.

Wish list
What else could we ask from this product line that it does not satisfy? We could wish for a perfect leak-free record, although this probably requires locking containers, which come with other sites of issues (such as space). A no-spotting guarantee would be great - although this probably requires hard plastic containers, which we do not find as comfortable as the Easy Find line, which is made of soft plastic. A perfect record in the dishwasher would also be nice. We would love to see transparent lids, to be able to see inside from the top. We would also like a lid shape which does not retain water when drying. Finally, we would like to to have the ability to fill the container to the very top of its rm, and not have to worry about the lid forcing out some of the contents.

We find the Rubbermaid Easy Find containers to be an excellent system for storing food in a refrigerator, very compact both empty and full, with easy to find lids, robust and sturdy, and with a good resistance to spotting. They can truly be used in freezer, dishwasher and microwave, with few likely negative consequences - although some precaution should still be taken. We use 3 types of containers in our offices at - Easy Find is one of the lines we picked. We have no hesitation in recommending them for use for food storage, and consider them superior to most or all other alternatives available when space and organization are important.

If you look to purchase Easy Find containers, you have a good chance to find them in any drugstore, often less expensively than on line because of shipping costs. There are several sets available, described in an excellent Amazon review which gives a comparison of different sets - beware, however, that many users criticize the sets for having too many small containers that they cannot use. If you need a specific container, it may be useful to note that each container size has an unique model identifier molded in the bottom, such as "7J66" or "7J55", and that these numbers can be used to find the exact matching model, or to search in Google Shopping.

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