On many containers and fast food boxes it says “microwave safe” but what does that really mean and what containers are safe for us to put in the microwave? The term microwave safe means that the cookware can be safely placed in a microwave as food is being heated or cooked; in order for an item to get the label as “microwave safe” it must be able to be placed in a microwave without food and not warm above room temperature despite being heated in the microwave.
Though many containers do have the label of “microwave safe” a lot of other items we warm in the microwave such as plastic wrap and paper towel are in the grey area to this label because they are not truly a container so they do not get tested. Since most of the time what we put inside of the microwave is something we are going to be digesting it is pretty important for us to know what is and is not safe for us to put in the microwave. So here are 5 quick tips to some microwave dos and don’ts to keep you microwave safe.
1.) Aluminum Foil: Many people believe that it is unsafe to put aluminum foil in the microwave because it may cause sparking. Contrary to belief aluminum foil can work as a perfect partial shield in cooking in the microwave. Since microwaves cannot really cook well through metal, aluminum foil can be used over about 1/4th of a dish to prevent overcooking in that area of the dish. However, you do need to be careful when using aluminum foil in the microwave; the foil needs to smoothed over the plate with no jagged edges because wrinkled foil can lead to sparks in the microwave, you do not want to heat more than 1/4th of your plate with aluminum foil, and you do not want the foil to be any closer than 1 inch to the walls of the microwave.
2.) Paper Towel: Paper towels are used all the time when heating up food to prevent a mess in the microwave. Most of the time white paper towels are completely safe to be put in the microwave however you need to be careful when heating paper towels for an extended period of time. Some paper towels contain Bisphenol A or are bleached with chlorine if heated for an extended period of time those chemicals can end up melting onto your food which you do not want, so be sure to check the labels on your paper towels before heating.
3.) Plastic Wrap: Plastic wrap much like paper towel is used a lot when microwaving food, also much like paper towels there are a few things you should do and know before microwaving plastic wrap. Firstly, when buying plastic wrap make sure that it is not PVC-based manufactured because it is believed that when heated plastic wraps that are PVC-based more easily leak plasticizers; both PVdC-based and LDPE-based are considered safe by the FDA so try to use those instead. Secondly, when microwaving with plastic wrap is make sure that the dish you are using is deep enough so that the food is not touching the plastic wrap when cooking. Certain foods can cause the plastic wrap to give out the plasticizers inside the plastic wrap that usually would not come out so it is always safe to make sure your dish is deep enough that the food is not touching the plastic wrap.
4.) Styrofoam: A lot of the times when we go out to eat at a restaurant our leftovers will be put in a styrofoam to-go container, so many times when eating our leftovers we will just throw the to-go container in the microwave without really thinking. While most of the time restaurants will buy microwave safe styrofoam to-go containers sometimes they will not. So always check the label on the styrofoam container, if it does not indicate that it is microwave safe then transfer it onto a different dish.
5.) Tupperware/Plastic Containers: A lot of the time when storing food in the refrigerator or pantry we store it in plastic containers or Tupperware which is also usually plastic. Since the food is already in those containers it doesn’t seem problematic to throw it in the microwave to heat. Unfortunately, heating these containers in the microwave can indeed be problematic, plastic melts. Unless the container specifies that it is microwave safe the plastic will usually contain a wide range of chemicals that we don’t want melted into our food so always be sure to check your Tupperware and plastic containers before heating.
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Written By: Claire Begalke