Ever since it hit the market, the trusty microwave has taken a lot of abuse. It’s powered by little spacemen, it kills your plants and it zaps the nutrition right out of your food. But perhaps the most persistent myth about this popular appliance is that putting plastics in it causes cancer. The truth is that you’re more likely to get cancer from smoking or eating fried foods than from microwaving plastic.
It’s true that some chemicals from plastic can migrate into your food, but they don’t cause cancer in humans. These chemicals are known as endocrine disruptors, and they mimic or block natural hormones in the body. These endocrine disruptors are most harmful to fetuses, infants and young children. They can also cause a variety of negative health effects, such as obesity, cardiovascular problems and respiratory issues.
Most of these toxic chemicals are found in cigarette smoke, but they can also be released by burning or microwaving non-food plastics. The best way to avoid ingesting these chemicals is to only use microwave-safe plastic containers. Plastics that have the triangle of arrows and number inside are safe to use in a microwave, but other plastics should not be heated in this appliance.
The FDA has strict standards for plastics that come into contact with food, and all of these plastics are examined for potential toxins. However, the FDA doesn’t test all of the plastics used in microwaves, so it’s important to read labels carefully.
When it comes to avoiding plastics that could leach into your food, the NSF recommends never using margarine tubs, take-out containers or whipped topping bowls in your microwave. These plastics are not heat resistant and can melt, causing the chemicals to leach into your food. Other plastics that should be avoided in a microwave include plastic grocery bags, cooking bags and parchment paper. White paper towels, which are often woven from plastics, should also be avoided.
While some studies have linked certain chemicals from plastic to cancer, they are based on lab experiments or animal testing. In most cases, these chemicals are in a very small amount and would need to be consumed for many years to have an impact on human health.
It’s also important to note that these chemicals are more likely to migrate from fatty foods, such as meats and cheeses, than from other foods. For this reason, you should be most worried about eating foods in plastic-wrapped meats and other fatty foods. The good news is that reducing your overall intake of fatty foods will help to limit your exposure to these harmful chemicals. In addition, it’s important to always wash plastic bottles and cups with hot, soapy water before reuse. This will help to remove any leftover bacteria or fungus that could be growing in the bottle.