Microwaving in Plastic Containers – Dangerous?

Heating food in the microwave is the epitome of convenience. You do away with pot and pans on the stove and the extra washing that comes with it. However, are plastic food containers safe to use in the microwave?

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There is no a straightforward answer. Definitely, plastic polymers are more sensitive to degradation than metals and ceramics when heated at high temperatures in the oven or microwave. The extent and method of degradation however depends on the chemical structure of polymer and the amount of other substances (additives) present. Heating and radiation softens the plastic container making it easier for ingredients and additives to leak out and contaminate the food.

The chemical leaks into your food can cause reproductive illnesses, cancer and other health issues. The amount of chemical leaking depends on the heating time, the temperature and the number of times the plastic container is used. Manufacturers are required to test their products to ensure that the risk leaks into your food is low or does not exist before using the ‘microwave safe’ label on their plastic containers. The process tests the number of times a plastic food container is likely to be used, what types of foods will be heated in it, and how long it is likely to be placed in the microwave at specific temperatures.

So do you use or not use plastic food containers in the microwave?

  • If you do not see a "microwave safe" label on a plastic container from trusted manufacturers, do not use it for heating purposes. Plastic containers without this label may not be necessarily unsafe. They just have not gone through the rigorous testing process and when in doubt, avoid using them for heating purposes.
  • Avoid using plastic containers, particularly with oily food and vent the container.
  • Avoid heating food in water bottles, plastic take-out food containers, and other plastic containers such as those holding yogurt, mayonnaise, cream cheese, whipped topping, margarine and mustard as they are not designed to be used in the microwave.
  • Microwaveable ready meals can be placed in the microwave but these are generally intended to be used one time only. Do not place plastic food containers repeatedly in the microwave.
  • Avoid using plastic wrap to cover your food when heating in the microwave. If you do use plastic wrap, make sure that it does not come in contact with your food as it may melt. To be extra safe when covering your food, use a paper towel or a microwave-safe glass/plastic domed lid instead.

Note: Element 100% biodegradable disposable tableware is microwave safe as it can withstand temperature of up to 120 degrees centigrade and can be reused up to three times.