Plastic can be found everywhere. It's in cups, containers, and a variety of bottles and bags that are used to store food and drinks. But recently, more people have been wondering if it's possible to expose our food (and ourselves) to all this plastic and whether it is safe to do so.
Studies have discovered that some plastic chemicals will leach out of the plastic and into the food and drinks we consume. Most of these compounds have been related to health concerns such as metabolic disorders including obesity and decreased fertility. When plastic is exposed to heat, this leaching can occur much quicker and to a greater degree. This implies that you might be exposed to a higher risk of potentially harmful chemicals by microwaving your leftovers in a plastic container.
The Dangers of Plastic
Different types of plastic have different names based on their composition — such as polypropylene, polyethylene, polyethylene terephthalate, and polycarbonate — and contain a variety of chemicals with different properties, such as plasticizers, antioxidants, and colorants.
According to Scientific American, studies have shown that these chemicals can promote human breast cancer cell growth and lower sperm counts. Pregnant women, infants and children are especially at risk.
Polystyrene, commonly called Styrofoam, a known carcinogen is an environmental nightmare. Cities such as New York, Washington and San Francisco have banned Styrofoam coffee cups, plates, and to-go boxes. Progressive food establishments have traded it and other hazardous packaging for safer, plant-based alternatives.
Is it Safe to Microwave our Food?
The majority of plastics can withstand microwave radiation and won't break down nor melt. If you are buying commercial products, you might be able to find "microwave safe" symbols on them.
Generally, for a plastic to be safe in a microwave it can't react with the food, leach out components in the food, or decompose. A lot of storage containers such as plastic butter containers, sour cream containers, etc., can either melt or decompose. This also includes water bottles - don't reheat water bottles if you want to be safe. Also, plastic bags from the grocery store should not be placed in the microwave.
Some plastics are classified to be microwave-safe by the FDA. Manufacturers must measure the containers, determine how long the package will be in the microwave, how much a consumer is going to consume from the container, and the estimated temperature of the food inside to get the FDA's approval.
Provided the amount of chemicals leaching from the container into the food is estimated to be lower than the maximum allowable amount, the container is considered microwave-safe. But that doesn't necessarily guarantee safety.
So, is there a way one can protect himself from the exposure of plastic use?
Avoid heating in microwaves - Plastics release more chemicals when heated, so avoid heating foods in plastic containers in the microwave
Say no to packaging – Whenever possible, opt against buying products that are stored in plastics.
Stainless steel and glass - Opt for glass or stainless steel to store your food.