Maple syrup is a popular pancake topping and sweetener that is made by boiling down the sap from maple trees. It has a rich, sweet flavor and thick, viscous consistency. Maple syrup is typically sold in containers ranging from small glass bottles to large metal cans or plastic jugs. But some maple syrup producers and hobbyists choose to package their syrup in food grade plastic buckets. This raises the question – do you really need a food grade bucket for maple syrup storage?
What are food grade buckets?
Food grade buckets are plastic pails that are made from materials deemed safe for food contact. The plastic resin used to construct food grade buckets does not contain chemicals that could leach into foods. Food grade buckets will be marked with the letters “HDPE” (high density polyethylene), “LLDPE” (linear low density polyethylene), “PETE” (polyethylene terephthalate) or “PP” (polypropylene). These are plastics approved by the FDA for food packaging.
On the other hand, non-food grade buckets may be made with recycled plastics, chemical additives or other materials that have not been approved as food safe. They are more likely to transfer toxic substances into the food contents. Non-food grade buckets are marked with resin codes #3, #4, #6 or #7 and should not be used for food storage.
Benefits of using food grade buckets
There are a few potential benefits to storing maple syrup in food grade buckets rather than non-food grade containers:
- Prevents chemical leaching – Food grade HDPE and PP plastics will not transfer toxic chemicals into the syrup.
- Withstands higher temperatures – Food grade buckets can better withstand heating when pasteurizing or canning maple syrup.
- More durable – Food grade buckets are thicker and sturdier than many consumer plastics.
- Reusable – 5 gallon food grade buckets can be cleaned, sanitized and reused many times.
- Affordable – Food grade buckets can be an affordable storage option for large volumes of syrup.
Potential downsides to food grade buckets
However, there are also some drawbacks to be aware of when using food grade buckets for maple syrup:
- Can impart plastic tastes/odors – Plastic buckets, even food grade, may leach subtle off-flavors.
- Not air tight – Bucket lids seal loosely compared to metal cans or glass jars.
- Syrup absorption – Light colored syrup may slowly absorb odors/flavors from the plastic material.
- Difficult to clean – Small residues can remain in scratches and seams after washing.
- Not child resistant – Buckles and snaps cannot make buckets child proof like screw caps.
Safety tips for using food grade buckets
If you do opt to use food grade buckets for maple syrup storage, here are some tips to do so safely:
- Ensure buckets are marked HDPE or PP resin.
- Purchase buckets meant for food use from reputable suppliers.
- Wash new buckets in hot soapy water before first use.
- Sanitize food contact surfaces with bleach, vinegar or other sanitizers.
- Fill headspace to the top to minimize air exposure.
- Use tight-fitting gamma lids rather than loose snap-on lids.
- Label buckets with syrup name and date.
- Store in a cool, dark place like a basement or pantry.
- Transfer syrup to smaller containers for daily kitchen use.
- Avoid very long term storage for more than 12 months.
Are there food grade bucket alternatives?
If you want to avoid possible plastic bucket drawbacks altogether, there are other food safe maple syrup packaging options to consider:
Glass jars or bottles
Glass offers an inert, nonporous surface that won’t interact with syrup flavors. Used mason jars, juice bottles or maple syrup bottles work well. Be sure to leave headspace and use new lids.
Unlined tin cans or enameled steel cans are traditional for maple syrup. Tight lids prevent air exposure. Useful for canning syrup for long term shelf stability.
Coated metal buckets
Buckets coated with enamel, tin or stainless steel minimize contact between syrup and plastic. Can be cleaned and sanitized for repeated use.
Clear plastic maple syrup jugs with tight screw caps are commonly used. Be sure they are made of HDPE or PP resin. Avoid prolonged sun exposure.
Stand up pouches
Foil lined pouches keep out oxygen and light. They take up less space than rigid containers. Not reusable but recyclable in some areas.
Special considerations for maple syrup packaging
Maple syrup has some unique properties that impact how it should be packaged for storage:
- High sugar content – The 66% sugar concentration makes maple syrup very hygroscopic. It can pull moisture through plastic walls over time, slowly diluting the product.
- Viscosity – Thick, viscous maple syrup can stick and cling to container surfaces. Small amounts left from incomplete pouring or cleaning can harbor bacteria.
- Microbial concerns – The high water activity of syrup supports microbial growth. Proper packaging should prevent contamination.
- Flavor absorption – Subtle maple flavors and aromas can be absorbed by plastic materials, cardboard, or wood over time.
- Light sensitivity – Maple syrup darkens with exposure to ultraviolet light. Opaque or dark containers help preserve color.
Keeping these factors in mind can help you choose optimal maple syrup packaging for your needs.
Is it safe to store maple syrup in old plastic buckets?
It’s generally not recommended to reuse old plastic buckets that originally held non-food items. Chemical residues could potentially leach into the syrup. Only use pails specifically manufactured as food grade.
How long does maple syrup last in a food grade bucket?
Properly stored in food grade buckets with tight lids, maple syrup can last 12-24 months in a cool, dark place before quality slowly declines. For long term storage of 2-5 years, container options like cans or bottles are better.
Can you reuse food grade buckets for maple syrup?
Yes, food grade buckets can be reused for maple syrup if properly washed and sanitized between uses. To sanitize, soak in a dilute bleach solution, rinse thoroughly, and allow to fully air dry before refilling.
Should maple syrup buckets be kept in the fridge?
Refrigeration can extend the shelf life of maple syrup by slowing microbial growth. However, refrigeration is not necessary if the syrup is packaged in an airtight container and stored in a cool, dark cabinet or pantry.
What’s the best way to get all the maple syrup out of a bucket?
Cutting a large pour spout into the bucket side will help empty it fully. You can also use a small flexible spatula to scrape syrup from the bottom and corners. Invert the bucket over a collection vessel overnight to drain.
Food grade buckets made from HDPE or PP plastic can be a practical option for maple syrup packaging, especially when handling large volumes. However, glass, metal, or coated containers may be preferable for longer term storage while avoiding potential plastic interactions. Ultimately, the optimal packaging depends on factors like desired portion sizes, length of storage, and personal preferences.
Regardless of packaging, be sure to sanitize containers, fill to the top with minimal air, store in cool/dark conditions, and monitor product quality over time. With proper handling, maple syrup can retain its delicious flavor and remain safe to consume.