Harvard Women's Health Watch

Food Safety: Microwaving food in plastic: Dangerous or not?

Food Safety

Microwaving food in plastic: Dangerous or not?

If you use e-mail, chances are you've received an urgent "PLEASE READ THIS!" message about the dangers of microwaving food in plastic containers or plastic wrap. The message warns that chemicals can leach out of the plastic and into the food, causing cancer, reproductive problems, and other ills. Is there any truth to this, or is it just another Internet-fueled "urban legend"? As is often the case with alarmist e-mails, this one contains a small kernel of truth — and a lot of misinformation.

Migrating chemicals

When food is wrapped in plastic or placed in a plastic container and microwaved, substances used in manufacturing the plastic (plasticizers) may leak into the food. In particular, fatty foods such as meats and cheeses cause a softening agent called diethylhexyl adipate to leach out. This certainly sounds scary, so it's little wonder that a warning is making its way across the Web.

But here's what the e-mails don't mention. The FDA, recognizing the potential for small amounts of plasticizers to migrate, closely regulates plastic containers and materials that come into contact with food. Before approving a container, the FDA conducts tests to make sure that it doesn't leak unsafe amounts of any substance into food.

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