Plastic containers like Tupperware with a microwave-safe label should be okay to use with your microwave (as long as it doesn’t have cracks or the plastic is in good condition). Single-use plastic containers are more likely than not unsafe for microwave usage.
However, plastic wrap is a whole other different animal altogether. So can you microwave plastic wrap? Here’s the nitty-gritty.
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Can You Microwave Plastic Wrap?
Yes, but it comes with a couple of caveats, just like plastic containers. Make sure it’s labeled as microwave-safe though.
Common plastic wrap (cling film, Saran wrap, cling wrap, Glad wrap, or food wrap) is normally safe to use in a microwave according to the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), particularly if they have the symbol and label of being microwave-safe. However, it should be in good condition.
Torn plastic wrap—even microwave-safe ones—can catch fire because it’s been compromised. Make sure to use fresh plastic wrap with the microwave-safe label included for best results. Additionally, if you’re using the wrap as a cover, poke some holes in it.
This is because pressure builds on a sealed containment environment, like in the case of a pressure cooker. The microwave works by exciting the water molecules or moisture inside the dish, which causes steam to rise.
The Safeness of Plastic Wrap Explained
You have several food covering options when reheating or cooking food in your microwave oven. You can use microwave-safe lids, plastic wrap, a plate, or paper towels to prevent food splash-back. Some might be surprised with the use of plastic since plastic that thin is known to melt.
According to the FDA and USDA, plastic wrap is microwave-safe. However, make sure it’s labeled as such. Some cheaper plastic wraps melt at extreme heat or leach off BPA unto your food, thus contaminating it.
A lid is also something you can depend on in order to keep your food (mostly chicken) from drying out due to the heat. The lid literally packs in the moisture to ensure your dish is as tender and juicy as possible.
How Come Some Plastics are Safe to Use and Some Aren’t?
We used to cover the food with a damp paper towel to prevent food splash-back and seal in the moisture. Pork chops in particular tend to pop and explode like hot cooking oil inside the microwave due to its fattiness.
However, there’s a better and less messy alternative to cover splattering hot food than moistened paper towels.
You might think, “Plastic isn’t safe to microwave, right?” Not exactly. Cheap plastic in general is not ideal to microwave because it could melt or start a fire if it gets too hot. It can also leach contaminants called plasticizers like BPA. If it’s microwave-safe plastic then that means it doesn’t leach BPA.
Some plastics are microwave-safe. A microwave-safe plastic doesn’t leach out BPA unto your food, thus contaminating it. Other plastics bleed out BPA like crazy.
The Best Way to Use Plastic Wrap in the Microwave
When using the microwave with a plastic-covered dish, make sure you have enough room between the plastic wrap and top surface of the food. If it’s overfilled to the brim and staining the plastic cover, there’s too little room.
The plastic and the food should not touch. This entails using a deeper bowl or a wider shallow bowl for things that are served through a plate. It should also be punctured to prevent pressure buildup and extreme food explosions.
The hole is the pressure release for the rising hot steam. Also, don’t let the wrap touch the actual food in light of how thin is.
Misinformation about Dioxins and Plastics
One of the earliest warnings about microwaving plastic is that heat from the microwave releases cancer-causing chemicals known as dioxins into food, which contaminates them. This is false because plastics don’t have dioxins in them.
Garbage containing wood, metal, plastics, and other materials when burned creates dioxins. As long as your microwaved food doesn’t go up in flames then burn through or melt the plastic, you’re quite unlikely to deal with dioxin contaminants in your microwaved dish.
There’s also no single substance known as plastic. Plastic is an umbrella term. It covers multiple materials made from an array of inorganic and organic compounds. This is why some plastics are considered microwave-safe while others aren’t.
Plasticizers Found in Plastic
While dioxins are less likely to contaminate food just short of setting a container on fire with your food in it, plasticizers can leach onto your food when microwaving cheaper, single-use plastic containers you get from restaurants.
“Plasticizers” are substances are commonly put into plastic for the sake of stabilizing or shaping it. Two of these chemicals include the following:
- Phtalates: A plasticizer that makes plastic flexible and soft.
- Bisphenol-A (BPA): A plasticizer known to create hard, clear plastic.
A microwave-safe container ensures that no trace of these plasticizers ends up in your food. They’re dangerous because studies confirm they’re “endocrine disrupters”. When found in your body, these chemicals mimic human hormones and wreak havoc on your health.
BPA and phthalate leakage can occur when plastic-wrapped food is microwaved. The migration of these endocrine disrupters is likelier for fatty food like cheeses and meats compared to other food types.
Plasticizers in Plastic Wrap
Plastic wrap makers have developed microwave-safe plastic wrap approved by the FDA specifically to combat plasticizer migration into food. Ever since studies have been conducted regarding BPA and the like, the FDA has acknowledged the risk for small amounts of plasticizers to get into your food.
It’s for this reason that the government agency closely regulates plastic materials and containers that are regularly in contact with food. Companies are required to indicate whether their plastic container like Tupperware and the like meets FDA standards on what they consider as microwave-safe.
Rigorous testing is done on these plastic containers before they’re given the FDA seal of approval as microwave-safe. The agency even reviews test data of a given new container before approval for microwave use.
To Sum It Up
According to the FDA and USDA, plastic wrap is safe to use in the microwave but comes with various caveats. For example, don’t let the wrap touch the food. It’s mostly a cover to keep the food from splattering all over the microwave oven.
You should also puncture a hole or two in the plastic to ensure pressure release. As the food is heated up by the microwave radiation, the water turns to steam and expands. In a constricted space, this could lead to pressure buildup and an unfortunate explosion.