Is Plastic Safe to Use in the Microwave?

Everyone knows that you can’t heat aluminum foil in the microwave, but if you think plastic wraps are a safe alternative, you might want to think again. Recent research has demonstrated that heating foods with certain kinds of plastic wraps can cause chemicals that might be harmful to your health to leach into the food.

There was apparently little research done on microwaving plastic wraps until a high-school student from Arkansas named Claire Nelson decided to test four different kinds of plastic wrap. By microwaving the plastic wraps in olive oil, Nelson discovered that di(ethyhexyl)adepate (“DEHA”), a possible carcinogen, and xenoestrogens, which are suspected of causing low sperm counts in men and breast cancer in women, were leaching from the wraps into the food. Nelson found that DEHA was migrating into the oil at 200 to 500 parts per billion- at least 4000 times higher than the FDA safety standard of .05 parts per billion. There are no FDA regulations for xenoestrogens, which are estrogen-like substances that can influence hormone functions.

DEHA has been listed by the EPA as a “possible human carcinogen”, although some recent studies suggest that there is no cancer link. Of course, chemicals can be dangerous whether they cause cancer or not. For example, there are concerns that early puberty can be linked to chemicals that mimic estrogen.

So what should you do? The USDA Food Safety and Inspections Service recommends using microwave-safe wraps to heat foods in the microwave. It also advises not letting plastic wraps touch foods during microwaving.