Is It Really That Bad to Use Plastic in the Microwave?

Sometimes you just have to. Here’s what to keep in mind.

Updated on April 10, 2023

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Photo by: Brett Stevens/Getty Images

Brett Stevens/Getty Images

Most of us have heard that plastic and microwaves are a bad match. But despite that knowledge, we sometimes fall into the trap of heating up our lunch packed Tupperware containers for the sake of time and convenience.

If you do a deep dive into the dangers of plastics in the kitchen, you would probably quit this bad habit cold turkey, but the truth is we’re all strapped for time and are just looking for a safe way to heat our leftovers in the microwave in less than two minutes.

That’s why we rounded up some quick guidance on how to microwave safely in a plastic world.

What’s the Problem with Plastic, Anyway?

The two key culprits to dangerous plastics are the man-made chemicals Phthalates and Bisphenol A (BPA), which are often added to plastic to help it keep its shape and pliability. In high volume, these substances have been linked to several negative health outcomes including hormone disruptions, respiratory issues and cardiovascular diseases. Pregnant people and children may be at greater risk of harmful effects. While these studies are not directly related to microwaving plastics, Phthalates and Bisphenol A (BPA) are found in various types of food packaging, beauty products and other environmental exposure. In general, you may be able to reduce your exposure by steering clear of plastic with recycling codes 3 (phthalates) and 7 (bisphenols).

Exposing plastics to heat (like microwaving) can increase the risk of transferring these substances to your foods. Washing plastic containers in the heat of the dishwasher can also prompt them to leach chemicals and should also be avoided. If you must wash plastics marked “dishwasher safe,” place them in the top rack, far from the heating element, Consumer Reports advises.

So, What Does That Mean for Microwaving?

Microwaving provides enough heat to degrade or even melt certain types of plastic. For these reasons, follow USDA guidelines and only use clearly indicated “microwave safe” plastic containers that have been labeled accordingly. Cold storage containers like cottage cheese and yogurt cartons are not approved for use in the microwave.

Want to avoid plastic all together? Transfer food and beverages into microwave-safe glass or ceramic containers. Many come with easily removeable lids so you can take them along to work – just pop off the lid (those are often made of plastic) and microwave at the office.

Bottom Line: Be mindful of your food storage containers and choose only those deemed “microwave safe” to keep food safe and reduce the risk of exposure to harmful chemicals.

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