Microwaving Food in Plastic Containers – Dangerous?

Do you regularly heat up leftovers in plastic food-storage containers? Do you put plastic reusable water bottles in the dishwasher when they need a deep clean?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is telling parents not to microwave food in plastic containers, as part of a new report on the dangers of chemicals in food. This warning is particularly aimed at parents, because the danger is greater for children; they’re a little more sensitive to these toxins than we might otherwise be as adults.

When kids are exposed to toxins during development, they have longer, deeper impacts, and the chemicals interfere with hormones, which affect everything during development.

The study advises people against microwaving food in plastic containers or placing plastic containers in the dishwasher, as these habits can cause the plastic material to release harmful chemicals. BPA serves as a hardening ingredient in plastic, and it has been associated with adverse health effects, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. BPA exposure or ingestion can also cause harm to fertility, the immune system, and even body fat percentage, according to the AAP. Tests done on hundreds of plastic products put through “real world” scenarios, including getting warmed in the microwave, showed that estrogenic chemicals seeped out of 95 percent of the plastic products.

Almost any plastic container can be expected to leach trace amounts of plastics into food. Heating food in plastic seems to increase the amount that’s transferred to food. This migration also increases when plastic touches fatty, salty, or acidic foods.

Several chemicals in pliable plastic can leach into your food when you heat it, and even if you’re diligent enough to transfer the food to a bowl or plate labeled “microwave-safe,” you still may not be protected. By and large, that label only means they won’t melt or break when heated—but it doesn’t mean they’re safe.

There’s no single substance called “plastic.” That term covers many materials made from an array of organic and inorganic compounds. Substances are often added to plastic to help shape or stabilize it. Two of these plasticizers are bisphenol-A (BPA), added to make clear, hard plastic, and phthalates, added to make plastic soft and flexible

BPA and phthalates are believed to be “endocrine disrupters.” These are substances that mimic human hormones, and not for the good.

Experts are most concerned about these endocrine disruptors because of their ability to affect estrogen and testosterone levels in humans. They also appear to have the potential to impact the development of the brain and reproductive organs in developing fetuses.

The AAP report goes on to remind people that many food additives, such as food colorings and preservatives, which are “generally recognized as safe” may actually be anything but. The consumption of ingredients containing indirect additives, such as dyes and glue, have been associated with health issues such as autism and obesity, as well as limited muscle mass and bone strength.

So what to do? To reduce unnecessary risk, experts advise everyone to microwave food in glass or ceramic and replace plastic housewares labeled “microwave-safe” if they have been scratched or if the color has changed. “That means a certain area designed not to come in contact with food is coming in contact with food and potentially more chemicals present in that container will find its way into food.

If food must be covered, then use paper towel, not plastic wrap. Condensation underneath the plastic wrap, which could contain phthalates, could cause fluid to drip down into the food.

If microwaving food in plastics is unavoidable, then pay attention to the recycling codes at the bottom of the container. Those codes say something about the type of plastic used—avoid any that have the code 3 or 7. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service advises Americans not to reuse margarine tubs, take-out containers, whipped topping bowls, and other one-time use containers, which are more likely to melt and cause chemicals to leach into food.

Contrary to popular belief, some Styrofoam and other polystyrene containers can safely be used in the microwave. Just follow the same rule you follow for using other plastic containers in the microwave: Check the label.

While the risks of putting plastics, BPA-free or otherwise, in the microwave are still up for debate, one thing is certain: Glass and ceramic are always a safe option. But if you want to get into the nitty-gritty, here’s what you need to know. If the chemicals are getting into food, we need to understand what that means for our health.

Remember, I’m not a doctor, I just sound like one. Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!

The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan. Glenn Ellis, is a Health Advocacy Communications Specialist. He is the author of Which Doctor?, and Information is the Best Medicine. He is a health columnist and radio commentator who lectures, nationally and internationally on health related topics. For more good health information listen to Glenn, on radio in Philadelphia; Boston; Shreveport; Los Angeles; and Birmingham., or visit: www.glennellis.com.