Microwaving Plastic: Myths vs. Facts

CRegal Editor
  • Is it safe to put plastic in the microwave?


    There remain plenty of myths out there about the risks that come with microwaving your meals.  Here are some of the more common ones.


    Myth 1: A microwave-safe plastic is always safe.


    False.  Many plastic containers, plastic wraps, wax paper or plastic products marked as "safe" can be used in the microwave.  However, the US Department of Agriculture: Food Safety and Inspection Service says that, though some of these products are safe to put in the microwave, a user should not let plastic wrap, for instance, touch food during microwaving.


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    Myth 2: Plastics that melt are not harmful to your health.


    The USDA says that a variety of plastics – including margarine tubs, take-out containers, whipped topping bowls and other "one-time use containers" should not be used in the microwave.  "These containers can warp or melt, possibly causing harmful chemicals to migrate into the food."


    So put the leftover Chinese food into a new dish before heating it up.


    Myth 3: The FDA does not regulate the chemicals in plastics.


    Not true at all.  Though some chemicals used in manufacturing plastic may migrate into food, the chemicals are very closely monitored by the FDA.  The FDA requires that these containers be tested under a set of strict standards and specifications. 

    The "allowable" amount of chemicals to migrate into food during cooking is 100 to 1,000 times less per pound of body weight than the amount that caused harm in laboratory animals over a lifetime use. In short: they're pretty safe.


    Myth 4: All foods react the same when in contact with plastic.


    From the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide:  "When food is wrapped in plastic or placed in a plastic container and microwaved, substances used in manufacturing the plastic (plasticizers) may leak into the food.  In particular, fatty foods such as meats and cheese can cause a chemical called diethylhexyl adipate to leach out of the plastic."  Despite how this sounds, the FDA has concluded that this is still safe.


    Bottom line: As always, common sense prevails.  Many products are safe, and some may not be.  Read the label to find out if it is microwave-safe before nuking it.


    What products are safe?

    Good Housekeeping recently conducted a laboratory investigation of more than 30 common plastic products that could be used in microwaving.  No BPA or phthalates (potentially harmful chemicals in plastic) were found in 27 of the products; three contained low levels of BPA – the bottom sections of Rubbermaid Easy Find Lids, Rubbermaid Premier containers and Glad Storage Zipper Bags – and one product had both BPA and phthalates in low levels: Glad Press'n Seal wrap.


    For a complete listing of safe products, see Dangers of Heart Food in Plastic: Microwave Health Risks.


Published On: December 19, 2012