The Truth about Plastic and the Microwave

During the past few weeks, the topic of microwaving plastic has come up again in the media. Spawned by the actions of reality TV personality Kourtney Kardashian, the subject has reignited discussion about whether it’s a safe practice.

Fox 5 DC’s Holly Morris is here to help us understand where some of the concerns are based, and what to do if you’re worried about cooking in the microwave. Citing an article published by Harvard Medical School, she first explains what dioxins are.

Originally, people thought dioxins were the carcinogenic chemicals released from plastic into foods. But dioxins are only created when certain materials are burned – including plastic – but they are not IN plastic itself.

The report warns that unless you’re eating burned food from a container that was burned in a microwave, it’s highly unlikely that you’ve been hurt by dioxins.

The real concern lies with plasticizers, a term used by the FDA to describe the substances added to plastic containers. When it comes to food containers, BPA and phthalates are the two which raise the most concerns.

Both are considered to be “endocrine disruptors”, which can cause interference with normal hormone activity. Certain doses of these chemicals can lead to cancer, thyroid problems, developmental issues, and even birth defects.

This is why you’ll notice labeling on some products that reads “BPA Free” or “free of phthalates” to warn people who wish to avoid the chemicals.

BPA and phthalates can leach into food and drinks, and that risk increases when exposed to high temperatures, such as when using a microwave. When those chemicals hit your food, they also hit your bloodstream.

To mitigate those risks, the FDA enacted a set of regulations to address plastic food containers. While the rules don’t 100% prohibit the presence of BPA and other chemicals like phthalates in plastic, they do limit the amount allowable.

Those that have passed inspection are labeled as “microwave safe”; you may already own some of these. If you want to avoid plasticizer exposure, it’s recommended to avoid letting plastic wrap touch your food when reheating in the microwave as that almost guarantees exposure to toxins.

Check labels to see if they indicate the presence of BPA or phthalates, or avoid containers with a number 7 or 3 on the container. You can also heat food in glass or ceramic dishware that’s been designated as “microwave safe” to avoid contact with plastic at all.

Another concern about heating food in microwaves is whether nutrients are zapped in the process. If you didn’t believe it could happen, it does.  Listen to this doctor explain how certain compounds are broken down in microwaved vegetables.

Click on the video for a list of tips on microwave container safety, including a lesser known one about melamine dishes! If you’re concerned about health-related problems due to microwave use, follow these simple tips or use an alternative method like a toaster oven or stove to heat your food.

Are you someone who’s also had concerns about microwave use? Do you use BPA and phthalate-free containers to heat your food?

Source:
NIH