Plastic Trays: Which Type Is Best For Your Foodservice Operation?

Trays: What To Consider Before Buying

When it comes to ordering trays for a foodservice, there is so much to consider. Will they be dropped frequently? Put in a dishwasher or microwave? Do they need to be freezer safe? Certain plastics are better for different foodservice operations which makes ordering the right tray critical.

As you shop for trays, you’ll find there are ABS, melamine, polycarbonate, polypropylene or co-polymer constructions. Use the guide below to determine which construction best suits your needs.


Construction Break Down


ABS stands for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene.  According to UL IDES, ABS was discovered during World War II then became available commercially in the 1950s. This type of plastic has a heavy resistance against breakage, scratches and stains.  They can handle temperatures from 0°F to to 180°F.  ABS trays are dishwasher safe and fall average when it comes to dry time.  These trays should not be used in a microwave. Many restaurants and foodservices will choose ABS trays because they have the durability of melamine for a lower price.


Melamine is a very old type of plastic that dates back to the 1830s. In a TIME article, they noted it “was invented by a German scientist and came into fashion as material used to make plastics and laminates in the 1930s.”  Melamine trays are durable and have excellent stain resistance.  They can handle temperatures from 0°F to to 212°F and can be used in dishwashers. Product Consultant Rick Arenstein advised to not use them in the microwave. He also noted they have incredibly fast dry times.


Polycarbonate was first invented in the late 1800s by a German chemist named Einhorn. UL IDES said this type of plastic was researched extensively from the time it was created in 1898 through 1930 but was then discarded. “Research was then started in the mid 1950s by General Electric and in 1958 the polycarbonate popularity expanded to a global community,” they said. Polycarbonate has a very high resistance to breakage, a moderate resistance to staining and can scratch easily. They have a very wide temperature range with the ability to handle temperatures from -40°F to 212°F.  This makes them ideal for use in a freezer or in high temperature atmospheres. Polycarbonate trays can be used in a microwave and are also dishwasher safe. They fall in the middle when it comes to dry time.


Polypropylene was invented in the early 1950s and hit the ground running. According to UL IDES, it’s popularity skyrocketed and created five other important variations. Polypropylene trays have a moderate resistance to breakage and scratches and are very stain resistant. They can handle temperatures from 32°F to 180°F and are microwave and dishwasher safe. Polypropylene trays have a fairly decent drying time, although they may require wiping for fast drying. Many foodservices choose polypropylene over melamine as well because of it’s extreme durability and lower price.


Remember how polypropylene creased five other important plastic variations? Co-polymer was one of them. This type of tray has a very high resistance to breakage, scratches and stains. It has quick dry time and can be used in both the microwave and dishwasher. Co-polymer trays can handle temperatures from 40°F to 210°F, so they aren’t ideal for foodservice operations that will need trays to be put into the freezer. Many foodservice find this type of tray to be a great value as it costs much less yet is so durable.

For more information on trays or if you would like more guidance before making a purchase, contact a Central Product Consultant at 800-215-9293.

One thought on “Plastic Trays: Which Type Is Best For Your Foodservice Operation?

  1. David D

    Hello, which is the best and cost effective material to use for beverage type trays? I’m looking for manufactures to develop a tray that I have designed and I would like to learn about which is the material of choice for franchise/ chain resturants. Any help will be great!

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