Wonderful Plastic

Isn’t plastic wonderful? Whatever did we do before plastic was invented? Inexpensive and lightweight, plastic is used for all kinds of useful objects. It can be clear to show contents, opaque to hide contents and brightly colored to enliven our environment and try to convince us all that we love doing housework. The applications for plastic are endless.

There is, however, one application that has recently been brought into question. We need to look carefully at the news that microwave cooking of foods in plastic containers or in glass or paper containers covered with plastic is hazardous to health. The following information has been reported in the newspapers, on television and over the internet in a “scaremail.”

Concerns about Plastic

Plastic wrap contains DEHA – di(ethylhexyl)adepate – which is considered to be a carcinogen. Experiments have shown that DEHA migrates into oil from plastic wrap at a rate of 200-500 parts per million during microwave cooking. Dioxins are also found in plastic wrap, they have long been known as carcinogens. Dioxins are released into food being heated in plastic.

This information is presented in a plausible fashion and has been deceiving many consumers. Let’s deal with the two suggestions in order.

DEHA is a chemical called a phthalate. Phthalates are added to make plastic softer and easier to handle and use. Heat and oil can dissolve DEHA, so it is possible for DEHA to migrate, under some circumstances, into food. Some phthalates have been shown to cause health problems but recent studies have shown that DEHA is not among them. The EPA does NOT classify DEHA as a carcinogen.

It is true that dioxins are very unpleasant compounds and are known carcinogens. Dioxin is formed when plastic is burned but there is no evidence from any scientific study to say that it is formed by the action of microwaves on plastic.

No one needs unwanted chemicals of any type spicing up their good food.

The USDA offers some sensible suggestions for the prudent use of containers in microwave ovens:

Use only glass, ceramics and plastics manufactured for use in a microwave oven.
    Do not use containers for whipped topping, margarine, etc. These one-time use containers could warp or melt and they may allow harmful chemicals to enter food.
    Plastic wrap, parchment paper, waxed paper and paper towels are safe to use in the microwave, if they are labeled as safe for microwave use.
    Bear in mind that paper products are often bleached during processing. Dioxins may be formed during this process, so traces of dioxins may be present in paper products.

   Do not use any of the following in the microwave:

Aluminum foil
        Brown paper or grocery bags
        Thin plastic storage bags
        Plastic grocery bags

Do NOT allow plastic to touch food while being cooked in a microwave oven.

Continue to enjoy your microwave oven, just follow the suggestions from the USDA. If you feel safer, then by all means, buy extra heat proof glass dishes for use in the microwave.

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