Are Microwave-Safe Plastic Containers *Actually* Safe To Microwave?
It's lunchtime, and you've been excited to eat last night's homemade curry since…well, since you ate it last night for dinner. Your glass storage containers were all being used, so you had to reach for a plastic container that you haven't phased out yet in your (slow but steady) shift to eco-friendly kitchen products.
You have only 30 minutes before your next meeting, so you head to the office kitchen to heat up your curry. Right as you're about to throw it in the microwave, you quickly glance to make sure the container is microwave safe. And then you hesitate because you aren't sure you actually know what "microwave safe" means. Or even more of a head-scratcher, how about "microwave safe, patent pending."
You've read about the many ways plastics can hurt not just the environment but your health as well. So how "safe" is microwaveable plastic, after all?
Is it actually safe to microwave plastic?
Not really. Contrary to popular belief, the "microwave safe" label on plastic containers isn't a get-out-of-jail-free card. While there's a hierarchy of which types of plastic are a bigger threat to our health, this label doesn't have anything to do with our health. "Microwave-safe" doesn't mean chemicals won't leach from the container into your food while microwaving but rather, that the plastic can withstand the heat of a microwave oven without melting.
Why we aren't fans of plastic (in the microwave or anywhere else).
BPA is most notoriously known as the chemical that makes plastics unsafe, but the truth is that many chemicals used to produce plastics are detrimental to our health. Chemicals that contribute to the structure and stabilization of plastics—such as phthalates, BPA, BPS, PCBs, styrene, and dioxins—can affect hormone levels and fertility1, metabolic health2, and overall physiological balance.
As pediatrician, author, and NYU professor Leonardo Trasande, M.D., MPP, previously shared on the mbg podcast, "At the microscopic level, plastic gets shaved off and absorbs into food with heat."
According to Trasande, the best way to avoid ingesting those plastics is to keep them out of the microwave altogether. We agree—the convenience of microwaving food in plastic containers simply isn't worth the risk.
Next time you want to heat up food that's in a plastic container, transfer it to a glass or ceramic plate or bowl to put in the microwave. Or, take it one step further and make the transition from plastic storage containers to glass ones so you don't have to think twice when heating up your leftovers.
4 ways to reduce your exposure to plastic-derived chemicals.
Plastic is everywhere, so the thought of eliminating it from your daily life can be overwhelming! The truth is that you won't be able to avoid plastic 100% of the time, but there are actionable ways to reduce your exposure.
Here are some of our top tips for avoiding plastic and its undesirable chemical components:
- Throw away plastic food & beverage containers. This is especially important if your plastic containers are cracked, scratched, or old, as the chemicals are more likely to leach over time or after they've been damaged.
- Swap single-use plastic products for reusable ones. Make the transition to reusable straws, water bottles, silverware, and plates made out of glass, stainless steel, or even wood to ensure you're not unintentionally ingesting plastic-derived chemicals.
- Purchase environmentally packaged food products. Many food companies have made the switch to eco-friendly packaging. Try to avoid plastic bags, containers, and wrapping whenever possible. Even better, bring reusable bags to your local farmers market to avoid the need for packaging altogether!
- Avoid plastics labeled No. 3, 6, and 7. If you can't avoid plastic packaging entirely, try to at least steer clear of the worst offenders. "Watch the number on plastic bottles, specifically three, six, and seven," Trasande says. "Three is for phthalates; number six is for styrene, and seven is for bisphenols" (aka BPA).
Microwaving plastic is definitely a no-go, even if your container is labeled "microwave safe." At the end of the day, plastic just isn't good for our bodies or the planet. Making small shifts away from plastic use can help support the health and longevity of both us and Mama Earth.
Luckily, our bodies have incredible natural detoxification systems that help clear out unwanted modern toxins—including plastic-derived chemicals. In addition to taking steps to avoid your plastic exposure, bolstering your natural detox pathways with an antioxidant-rich supplement like mbg's daily detox+ can help support your elimination organs and promote overall well-being.*
Morgan Chamberlain is a supplement editor at mindbodygreen. She graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science degree in magazine journalism and a minor in nutrition. Chamberlain believes in taking small steps to improve your well-being—whether that means eating more plant-based foods, checking in with a therapist weekly, or spending quality time with your closest friends. When she isn’t typing away furiously at her keyboard, you can find her cooking in the kitchen, hanging outside, or doing a vinyasa flow.