Do some microwavable plastics cause cancer?
We have all heard the stories, all read the scary emails that went around, and were forwarded and forwarded until we had no idea where they actually came from, about microwavable plastics and their links to cancer. But, how accurate were these emails? Is it safe to microwave foods in plastic, or are some plastics considered the newest link to cancer? The answer to both questions is "yes".
Dangerous Plastics Leaking into Foods
The truth, according to Harvard’s health website is that when food is wrapped in plastic and heated in a microwave, or placed in a plastic container and heated in a microwave, the substances that were used in the manufacturing of that particular piece of plastic (also known as plasticizers) can leak into your food.
More specifically, they can leak profusely into protein and fat rich meats and cheeses because the fats cause a "melting" reaction in the plastics. That includes milk and milk products. These foods cause DEHA (diethylhexyl adipate) to leak from the plastic. And this substance when found in the human body's tissues, has been linked to many kinds of cancers.
What is the FDA Doing about Dangerous Plastics?
here is a small mitigating factor for some plastics. The FDA recognized early on the potential for small amounts of plasticizers to migrate, so they closely regulate plastic containers and materials that come into contact with our food supply. They require manufacturers to test plastic containers, and then they place standards and specifications on those tests. However, the FDA currently has no "teeth" in the regulations and can't force makers to tell the truth to consumers.
The measure of a plastic container’s chemical migration is tested at different temperatures. The FDA should hold all plastics tested to the conditions that a container would likely see during normal in-home use. They will then estimate the ratio of plastic surface to area of food, how long the container would normally be in a microwave, how hot the food might get while in the microwave and how likely it is that a person would eat the food from the microwave container.
All these things come into play, and the FDA’s scientists measure the chemicals that leach out, and see to what extent they may migrate to various kinds of foods. The maximum allowable amount of leaching is 100-1,000 times less per pound of body weight than the amount shown to harm lab animals over a lifetime of such usage. Only containers that pass these stringent tests are allowed to display a ‘microwave safe’ label.
So, only those containers labeled “microwave safe” have been tested and found safe for microwaving food. Anything that is not labeled in this manner is not necessarily safe or unsafe. The FDA simply hasn’t determined their results yet. Unfortunately this leaves a lot of uncharted territory for us to traverse.
So, which plastics are safe? Well, as stated above, only those labeled ‘microwave safe’ have been tested by the FDA and found to be so based on old and outdated safety calculations. Basically we are on our own.
There are entire lines of microwave safe plastic dinnerware such as the ones found at Target. These are both stylish and FDA approved safe. At first glance, it is even hard to tell they are plastic. Just do a search on their site for ‘plastic dinnerware’ and click on each item. You will find the ‘microwave safe’ label right in the description. Other vendors such as Simply Smart Living boast entire lines of this pretty, safe and useful plastic.
Other microwave safe dishes include the plastic containers you can find from Tupperware (who have been leading the call for safe plastics for years) and even Crate and Barrel. Crate and Barrel has a very modern selection of plastic dishes that are FDA approved microwave safe, and Kid Smart Living boasts a wide variety of both microwave safe dinnerware and assorted dishes.
Can You Microwave Styrofoam?
Can you microwave Styrofoam? Actually, you can. But, it depends upon which Styrofoam. Microwaving Styrofoam has unknown consequences. Even the ‘microwave safe’ label—can't make any guarantees today. Even though it has gone through the same FDA tests as any other stamped plastic container.