Food Safety and the Microwave: Plastic Concerns

Plastic. It is a wondrous invention. It has pervaded millions of industries. Plastic allows us to package, store, cook, and reheat many food items. The microwave is the only kitchen appliance where heating plastic will not cause the plastic to melt.

But there are some things to be aware of when heating food in plastic containers in the microwave.

  • What concerns should you have about food safety and microwavable plastics?
    The primary concern with plastics is the leeching of chemicals into your food. These chemicals can have adverse affects to your body, particularly to your endocrine system. The endocrine system is responsible for the production and regulation of your hormones relating to virtually every bodily activity, such as the way you physically and mentally develop, reproduce, heal, rest, and consume energy.
  • Who determines if a plastic is microwave safe?The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates plastics and other containers for food safety in the microwave. 
  • What products does the FDA test for food safety?The FDA tests any product that is intended to have contact with food. This includes products such as coated paper containers (like those for ice cream or popcorn), some styrofoam, plastic cutlery, dishes, storage containers, water bottles, plastic wrap, takeaway containers, and condiment or food storage. Any plastics designed for food use are tested under a specific provision and are classified as “food contact substances.”
Cup and Fork Symbol indicate that plastic is safe for contact with food.
  • What does microwave safe mean?A container is deemed microwave safe if it as been tested for a specific kind of plasticizer that leeches minimal amounts of chemicals into the food. 
  • What plastics or plasticizers are products tested for?
    A chemical compound is deemed safe by the FDA until proven otherwise. There has been an increasing concern on the chemical compounds leeching into the food and causing health problems. Two primary compounds tested are Bisphenol-A (BPA) and pthlalates.
  • Is there a microwave-safe symbol?
    While there is a microwave safe symbol, it is not always printed on the packaging. Read the labels for “microwave safe” language or the following symbol with multiple wavy lines:
  • How does the recycle symbol relate to the microwave-safe designation?The recycle number only relate to the kinds of plasticizer used in the product. However, cross listing the plastic recycle designation with the FDA list of plastics tested will inform you of which products have plastics that have been deemed microwave safe. 
  • What should do you do next?
    • Recycle cracked plastic containers
    • Organize your plastic containers according to their microwave safety rating (if marked) or recycle number designation. Some plastics continue to be useful for storage, but not reheating.
    • Don’t wash plastics in the dishwasher, as the heat and detergent will break down the plastics.
    • Follow the directions on pre-packaged foods with cooking instructions.
    • Shift to using glass or ceramic dishes for heating or cooking foods in the microwave.

Plastic containers are incredibly convenient for storage and reheating of foods. Food safety is one of many concerns among weight management practices. Contact your local Metabolic Medical Center to address your weight management goals.

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