Tuesday, August 16, 2011

And What About Zapping Food in Plastic?

Just like storing leftover food in its tin can, I have always felt somewhat leery about microwaving food in plastic containers. I don’t know what combination of disapproving parental glances and vague newspaper headlines prompted this feeling, but I honestly hesitate before microwaving something in plastic.  But, why? What’s with the hesitation? Am I subconsciously afraid it’ll give me cancer? Or just afraid it’ll make the food taste a little strange?

Let’s figure this out.

While doing my research on BPA last week, I saw this cautionary note:
Consumer Reports is advising those who are concerned that they might be able to reduce, though not necessarily eliminate, their dietary exposure to BPA by taking the following steps:
  • Choose fresh food whenever possible.
  • Consider alternatives to canned food, beverages, juices, and infant formula.
  • Use glass containers when heating food in microwave ovens.
In my last blogpost, I concluded that BPA from the liner is indeed able to leach into the food inside canned goods, given enough time. But is it possible for BPA to be quickly transferred into foods when heated?

Good Housekeeping disagrees. In their November 2008 issue, Good Housekeeping commissioned a study on this very question, publishing their results in the article “Is It Safe to Heat Foods in Plastic?” The scientists ultimately concluded that, despite the presence of BPA in some of the plastic products, “[n]o detectable BPA or phthalates migrated from the products into the simulants.”

So, while some plastic containers DO contain BPA, the heating process itself won’t transfer BPA to the food—but if the plastic container in question actually melts while in the microwave, thereby mixing IN WITH THE FOOD and contaminating it, then you’ve got another problem entirely. 

The United States Department of Agriculture says:
Plastic storage containers such as margarine tubs, take-out containers, whipped topping bowls, and other one-time use containers should not be used in microwave ovens. These containers can warp or melt, possibly causing harmful chemicals to migrate into the food.
The USDA concludes, therefore, that if have a plastic container that doesn’t warp or melt, then it’s safe to use in the microwave.

I don’t know if I believe it, though. I mean, sure.  Maybe BPA and phthalates aren’t getting into our food. But what if some strange, unknown chemical IS successfully leaching its way into the food—a chemical that we don’t yet have the technology to identify? 

Not to get all paranoid on everyone. But for myself personally, I might try to stick with containers made from inert materials like glass. 

Though I suppose one really can’t get too caught up in the thought that our modern technology is slowly but surely giving us cancer. It’s one thing if the evidence is there (a la our canned goods BPA conversation). But if the evidence honestly isn’t there, then that’s that. Sure, in fifty years we’ll probably find out that every time we microwaved plastic, we created an evil space-gremlin—but for now, unless the plastic is actually melting into our food, we’re probably fine.

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