When we are in a rush or in need of a quick bite, we always rely on our trusty microwaves to heat our food in a snap. Our meals are usually microwaved using plastic containers and we never thought of it twice. Besides, this is a far more accessible thing to use especially if you’re out in convenience stores or even if you’re just at home.
However, is it safe to use plastic when microwaving your food? There have been several studies that state the dangers of microwaving plastics to our health. With that, this article will discuss some of the things that you need to know about your favorite plastic containers and the risks they may expose to you when used for microwaving.
What is in plastic?
Oil and petroleum or natural gas are the most common and primary materials used to create plastic. Sometimes, some plastic manufacturers use other alternative and more environment-friendly products like cotton linters and wood pulp. Different kinds of plastics are made of varying materials depending on what they will be used for.
Besides its primary materials, plastics also contain other kinds of substances that allow them to stabilize and hold their shape. Two kinds of stabilizers are usually mixed in plastics namely the bisphenol A, more commonly known as BPA, and the phthalates. BPA is responsible for making plastic hard enough to retain its shape while phthalates allow it to be more elastic and durable.
More often than not, products made of plastic will have a recycling symbol that indicates the material of the plastic being used through the numbers 1 to 7. This said symbol looks like three arrows forming a triangle and has a single number inside.
Can you microwave plastic?
It is not advisable to use plastic containers when heating food whether using a microwave or not. However, there are plastic containers that are BPA-free and FDA-approved that you can use for microwaving food safely if you have no other options.
Considering that, you need to be mindful of the kinds of plastic containers you use when it comes to microwaving. Always make sure that they are those that are made to withstand the heat required for cooking food.
Is it safe to microwave plastic?
Generally speaking, using plastic containers like 5 pp to microwave food is considered safe. But there are risks involved in continuously using these kinds of containers. This is even if they are technically labeled as “microwave-safe”.
Leaching is the most common and important concern when it comes to the wear and tear of the usual plastic containers that we use for microwaving. This is when the chemicals found in the plastic are transferred to the food. It happens because the heat from the microwave causes some of the materials and substances in plastics to melt and ultimately break down.
It is dangerous to use plastics that are made with BPA and phthalates in cooking or even just microwaving. These two substances can cause very serious health problems and complications such as several types of cancer, obesity, infertility, thyroid and cardiovascular issues, and even death.
What kinds of plastics should you NOT use when microwaving?
There are very serious risks involved when simply using plastic for microwaving our favorite on-the-go meals. However, there are times when using these kinds of containers is the only option we have. With that, it is important to know the different kinds of plastics that you should NOT use when microwaving your food.
Always remember that products containing BPA should be avoided at all costs. These are never safe for microwaving. You can easily determine this by looking for the recycling symbol labeled with the number 7. Products labeled with this number are those that are made of polycarbonate (PC) kind of plastics as well as acrylic, fiberglass, nylon, and polylactic fibers. These are commonly used to make glasses for drinking as well as food containers for storage.
Generally, you don’t want to use plastic products labeled with numbers 1, 3, 6, and especially 7. Here is a more detailed explanation of the different plastics that you should NOT use:
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
This kind of plastic is a common material used for making plumbing pipes, medical tubing, shower curtains, electrical wires, and even synthetic leather products. This is symbolized by the number 3 and contains the substance BPA. This is why containers made especially for food don’t use this material anymore.
This is more commonly known as Styrofoam and is used to make food containers as well as disposable cups. This is labeled using the number 6 and is not safe to be used for microwaving food.
On the other hand, there also are certain kinds of plastics that are somehow okay and not that harmful to use when it comes to food handling and possibly microwaving. However, they remain questionable because of the lack of studies that prove their safety.
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET- or PETE grade plastic)
This kind of synthetic plastic is usually made into bottles for soda as well as containers for cooking oil, mayonnaise, and even peanut butter. This is symbolized by the number 1. It is not safe to microwave this kind of plastic. Moreover, you also shouldn’t bother trying to reuse this since it is meant to be used only once and must be immediately disposed of afterward.
High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
This material is used for making containers for hand soaps and detergents as well as for edible things like butter and milk. This is symbolized by the number 2. Some use products with this material for microwaving and cooking. However, there are no clear studies that back up its safety so it’s better to not use it for that purpose.
Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
This kind of plastic is commonly used on products for food packaging and storage as well as plastic bags to mention a few. This is labeled with the number 4 and it is not recommended for microwaving or any type of cooking. There also are no studies that tell us anything about its safety. Hence, it is best to not experiment with this one if you’d want to microwave your food.
Tips for safe microwaving using plastic
It seems quite scary to use any type of plastic now that we are aware of the dangers it poses when used in microwaving our food. However, there is nothing to worry about as long as you keep in mind and make sure of some safety precautions that will prevent harmful chemicals from leaching into your food. With that, here are some tips that may help you safely microwave your food using plastic.
Use microwave-safe things
If you see the need to use plastic containers for microwaving then you should look for those labeled with the numbers 2, 4, and 5 since these are considered the safer kinds of plastics. Polypropylene (PP) is labeled using the number 5 and is the material commonly used in most food packaging and storage items such as coffee capsules, bottle caps, baby bottles, and yogurt containers. This is considered the best type of plastic to use for microwaving and cooking because of its heat-resistant property.
It would also be helpful if you would check your plastic container’s label. Make sure that it indicates that it is microwave-safe before you use it for microwaving. The actual words may be printed out in the product or it may have the microwave-safe symbol along with the number that indicates what material was used in making it.
Handle your plastic wares properly
Even if your plastic containers are labeled as microwave-safe, you still need to take part in making sure it remains like it is. If you ever see a container that has damage like cracks and other forms of wear on it, make sure that you replace them immediately. This is because it is more likely that it will leach some harmful substances into your food.
To make sure that you don’t damage your plastic containers easily, avoid storing very hot food in them. Allow the food to cool down in a glass or ceramic dish before transferring it to your plastic containers. You should also stop using very rough materials like steel wool when cleaning them. This is because it will only cause too much scratching and other damage to your containers which may lead to further leaching in the long run.
Additionally, you should check the manufacturer’s guidelines on how to handle your plastic wares. Sometimes, manufacturers indicate the maximum temperature and time length that a container can sustain. Do not ignore this and always consider this whenever you use it for microwaving to make sure that your containers are still in good shape.
Plastic wraps should NOT touch your food
Plastic wraps are usually not safe because some of them contain BPA. It is better if you look for other safer alternatives if you need to cover up your food. However, if you have no other option but to use them, then make sure that the plastic wraps do NOT touch your food. This kind of wrap will most likely cause leaching into your food which may be dangerous to your wellbeing. Make sure there is enough space between the plastic wrap and your food before microwaving them.
So, now you are aware of the different risks posed by microwaving plastics. Instead of being scared or paranoid about this, we must stay informed about the kinds of plastics that are harmful and that are safe to use.
Now that you know about this, what else can stop you from heating things? Go and turn that microwave on!