Plastic Containers Danger and Safety

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This is a follow up to Wendy from Greenish Thumb comment on my last post "Teflon and Other Nonstick Health Danger" about the safety of plastic containers:

"...I've also recently thought about bringing lunch to work in plastic containers (like the ones you get with carry out). They were so nice, are free, basically leakproof, and can be washed in the dishwasher, but I think that stuff is horrible for you too - especially microwaved..."


I used to bring lunch in plastic containers up until 2008. Many, if not all of my coworkers, replaced their plastic containers with ceramics or glass ones. I think it started out when a bunch of them received spam emails about  the risk of getting cancer from eating microwaved foods in plastic containers. There were some paranoia. Many people stopped bringing lunch and bought lunch everyday. As for me, I think the breaking point was when I saw the melted corner of my boss's lunch box after she heated up her curry.

There are health concerns over heating foods in plastic containers because of the possibility of chemicals called plasticizers that can leach out and evaporate into the food. According to TCI America, plasticizers are "materials which are added to improve several properties of polymers such as workability, heat resistance, low-temperature resistance, weathering resistance, insulation properties and oil resistance etc". In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates plastic containers that come in contact with food. Manufacturers are required to test the plastic containers that come in contact with food to meet FDA standards and specifications. Only plastic containers that have passed the FDA stringent testings have the microwave-safe symbol or written instructions indicating the product is microwave-safe.


Here are some common U.S. microwave-safe or food-safe symbols
 Photo Credit: cgpbento.livejournal.com

Below is a list of microwave precautions from the Harvard Medical School:
  • Most takeout containers, water bottles, and plastic tubs or jars made to hold margarine, yogurt, whipped topping, and foods such as cream cheese, mayonnaise, and mustard are not microwave-safe.
  • Microwavable takeout dinner trays are formulated for one-time use only and will say so on the package.
  • Don’t microwave plastic storage bags or plastic bags from the grocery store.
  • Before microwaving food, be sure to vent the container: Leave the lid ajar, or lift the edge of the cover.
  • Don’t allow plastic wrap to touch food during microwaving because it may melt. Wax paper, kitchen parchment paper, or white paper towels are alternatives.
  • If you’re concerned about plastic wraps or containers in the microwave, transfer food to glass or ceramic containers labeled for microwave oven use.
If you plan on replacing your plastic containers, make sure they are microwave safe and BPA-free. I think regardless of how microwave safe your plastic container is, if you are heating fatty foods in it, the hot oil can easily melt the plastic. The danger of ingesting plasticizers is still there. I've seen my plastic container deteriorate after just a few usages. So the best bet is to use microwave-safe glassware.

Sources Credit:

29 comments:

TK said...

I am aware of the danger of the plastic container and would only microwave in a glass container or glass plates.

It seems that nothing is safe anymore. It's so scary..

Thanks for sharing the information..

Jesson And Rey Ann said...

nice post!

Dora said...

I was told code 5 is safest & my little guy's bottles + containers are all with BPA-free too. Spent a little bit more for the fear of health at risk so I hope it's worth the money :-)

Savvy Gal said...

wow.... good to know.

Mei Teng said...

I transfer food into microwave safe crockery before heating them up. Mineral water drinking bottles are also supposedly not meant for pro-longed usage.

Meldylocks and Her Three Bears said...

i don't care whether it says "mircrowave-safe" or not...I never use plastic containers in the microwave...I just don't trust plastic!
I just use it for dry food or the most food which have already cooled down. Even silicon too, I find it difficult to be trusted)

AVCr8teur said...

After hearing all those stories on the news, I no longer use plastic containers in the microwave even if it states its microwave-safe. The worst is the styrofoam containers for take-outs.

Gina F said...

I only use glass bowls or plates to heat up leftovers. But I am sure we will still get something from just breathing the air outside the way this world is going. ha!ha!

~Gina~
motherof1princessand2princes.blogspot.com

Serline said...

Thanks for the tips, will be more conscious about it the next time I stick something in the microwave. Still trying to warn my kids about putting their metal plates inside... have a blessed weekend!

Veronica Lee said...

No microwave oven for me!!! No matter how safe, I still think there are side effects not known yet. I still stick to steaming or using the convectional oven to reheat food.

Thanks for sharing this.

Lazy Pineapple said...

ahhh quite an information...
I was reusing plastic container sometimes but since now I am back in India...the conventional way of heating on steam will be used.

Great tips RB...will keep this in mind.

Joey @ Big Teeth and Clouds said...

These are good tips.

lisa is cooking said...

Great info here! A few years ago, I switched to glass storage containers for leftovers and re-heating.

Heavenly Housewife said...

I've heard about this. My grandmother mentioned something about this to me before, but thanks for clarifying it and passing this info on.
Have a wonderful weekend ahead.
*kisses* HH

therabbitrunner said...

this is one thing I really need to work on! I always thing its just easier to grab a water bottle while running rather than fill up my huge metal one...i know its better for the enviornment (& me) to use the metal one but the plastic just always seems easier

Wendy said...

OK, I'm not convinced! :) Thanks for doing this post! It's just such a shame to have to recycle those sturdy plastic carry out containers after just one use. Maybe part of the key is to not order out so much!!!

Mr. Stupid said...

I have heard about it. We stopped using Plastic Containers just like you a couple of years back. We only microwave in glass containers now.

outdoor.mom said...

thank you for posting this :-) it is such a good reminder.

Icy BC said...

Very helpful post! I replace my plastic some time ago..

Ebie said...

I agree with plastic water bottles are one time use only. The plastic food containers are so handy, yet when I get to work, I transfer them to a paper plate and microwave it from here.

P.S. Thanks for stopping by my blogs. It has been a very hectic weeks for me caring for a sick cat under antibiotic. She's feeling better now. Hope to be back blogging in the next couple of days.

Liz said...

I'm aware of the danger too. We never heat food in plastic containers. Although sometimes I use them to keep food, I transfer the food in a glass dish before reheating.

Great info! :)

theUngourmet said...

I never put plastic in the microwave even if the label says it's safe. I just don't trust it. Great info here. Thanks!

Uncle Lee said...

Hi Rosebelle, always good to know or learn something....
But where food is concerned, I leave it to my cook....my wife.
So far so good.
Have a nice day, Lee.

Jesson And Rey Ann said...

I am aware of the danger of the plastic container and would only microwave in a glass container or glass plates.

MinnieRunner said...

It is really a health danger. We kept on reminding one of our officemates as well regarding her lunch. She brings one prepared in a plastic and a styrofoam.

Buckeroomama said...

Even if it says microwave-safe on the container, we transfer food to a glass or ceramic container before microwaving.

slavemom said...

I'm not comfortable microwaving (jes heat up) food with the Tupperware container that's meant for microwaving. And it's a reputable brand. So definitely not taking chances with those take-out plastics.

myorii said...

This post has me feeling all paranoid now...I don't use plastic containers like the disposable ones but I do use Japanese bento boxes to hold my daughter's lunch. They're all microwave safe but they're also made of hard plastic. I'd use glass or ceramic bento boxes but they'd be dangerous for her to use at school since they can break. I just hope that the ones I use with her aren't too toxic or I'll have to switch to giving her food that doesn't require heating...

Anonymous said...

Lots of posts with people very worried about microwaving within plastic containers, but no posts about microwaving in general.
It's relatively easy to write an article about the dangers of plastic. Especially if you throw in a technical term like plasticizers to make it sound credible, but it may not be practical to pick out selective statements and draw the conclusion that all plastic are bad.
I'm not here to support them either, but realize that different materials have their place and need to be used properly. As mentioned, most microwave safe containers are meant to reheat food, not cook it, although there are plastic containers that are suitable for cooking or steaming as well. If you're really a purist, then you shouldn't even be microwaving at all. Personally, we don't use the microwave much except to reheat leftovers.
As far as storage, polypropylene or silicone is BPA free, although clear polycarbonate may contain BPA.
Hope this helps clear up some misunderstandings.