Last Updated on August 13, 2021
Photo: Microwave Lunch Explosion by daryl_mitchell
We’ve taken the time to research this question, and we’ve come up with some helpful information to guide you through the best ways to use plastic in the microwave, or not.
1. Plastic and Your Microwave – What’s the Problem
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So science is starting to tell us, more and more often that plastic isn’t great for foods and beverages. Many plastics contain chemical compounds that aren’t good for our bodies. Some plastics that contain these products are being removed from the market, but that doesn’t solve the problem of the plastic that you have in your cabinets today.
What is even more confusing is that now you can buy plastics that are supposed to be safe for the microwave. But are they really? And do you really want to expose your family to chemicals that aren’t good for their health?
2. Science and Regulations
Before we delve into the answer to the question of using plastic in the microwave, it is helpful to know why this is a problem and what we are doing to fix the problem.
Plastics contain two man-made chemicals that are the source of all this controversy. Phthalates and Bisphenol A (BPA) are chemicals that are added to plastics to help them maintain their shape and pliability. They are why lots of plastic containers can bend so easily without breaking.
However, these two chemicals have become linked to some pretty strange stuff. Both Phthalates and BPA are called “endocrine disruptors”. This means that they mess with your hormones and make your body do stuff it shouldn’t. For adults, this isn’t a huge issue, but for growing children, endocrine disruptors can hinder normal growth and development. They are bad stuff.
The problem here is that while science is starting to understand the link between delayed development in children and plastics, there just isn’t enough evidence to link Phthalates and BPA to developmental issues.
And because there isn’t a solid link, they are not regulated in plastic products. That is why you still find tons of plastic containers holding food, and designed for use in the microwave.
3. But Can You Use Plastic in the Microwave?
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Knowing what we now know, this is a tricky question. Can you use plastic in the microwave, yes. Should you use plastic in the microwave? Maybe not.
Phthalates and BPA tend to leach from plastics when exposed to heat, so it makes sense that if you are microwaving foods in plastic, you are probably adding these chemicals into your food.
If you are going to use plastic for storing and heating foods, you should avoid some particular types of plastic. Even plastic containers that claim to be safe for reheating foods, might not be, so look carefully at the recycling codes on plastic containers, before you use them for storing foods. Here are the recycle codes that you should always avoid:
- Code 3 = Contains phthalates
- Code 6 = Contains styrene
- Code 7 = Contains Bisphenol
If you are going to use plastics to store food, pick those that have recycling codes 1, 2 and 4. Number 1 and # 2 plastics are BPA-free and #4 is a good alternative to containers with a #7 recycling code. Also, never reuse containers that foods are packaged in, in the microwave (butter, sour cream or yogurt tubs).
There are now microwave safe plastics, but make sure you are only using containers that are in good condition. Plastics that are scratched or damaged can leach chemicals into your foods.
4. Alternatives to Plastic
Really, the best answer is to find containers that are better than plastic. There are a lot of microwave safe alternatives, you just need to be willing to use them.
5. Other Things You Should Know
Here are a few other bits of information you should know about using plastics in the kitchen.
In general, it is probably a good idea to not use plastic in the microwave, even if it says it is “microwave safe”. But, we’re also not saying you need to completely give up your plastic food containers.
Use your plastic containers to store your food, but skip the microwaving. There are plenty of great alternatives for heating your foods that are safe and are a better, healthier choice for your family.
Further reading: What size of countertop microwave should you get