As a doctor, many people often ask me about the kind of plastic to use and about the ones to microwave. Most of you must have a bundle of queries like Am I doing it right using them? How can I avoid or decrease health risks to my family due to heating of food or drinks in plastic? Should we completely stop using it? Is it possible to completely stop using plastic in microwave or having outdoor food where we often see the take away containers to be plastic?? It’s not possible to completely stop using them but yes we can use it with caution and in minimal. So here I would mention briefly some important things we all need to consider.
You may be concerned that heating food in a microwave using plastic will increase your risk of developing cancer or many other health issues. Many different chemicals are being used in the manufacturing of plastic and some of these may cause cancer. It is possible that these chemicals may leach out of the container and into the food it holds.Substances are often added to plastic to help shape or stabilize it. Two of these plasticizers are bisphenol-A (BPA)- added to make clear, hard plastic and phthalates added to make plastic soft and flexible
Perhaps one of the most dangerous contaminants in microwavable food is BPA. Bisphenol A, often known as BPA is a chemical found in hard plastics and the coatings of food and drinks cans which can behave in a similar way to estrogen and other hormones in the human body. BPA is used to make many products, including water bottles, baby bottles, dental devices, medical devices, household electronic and sports equipment.
The amounts that were detected, scientists have found to cause neurological and developmental damage in laboratory animals. The problems include genital defects, behavioral changes and abnormal development of mammary glands. The changes to the mammary glands were identical to those observed in women at higher risk for breast cancer. So pregnant ladies are advised to abstain themselves from using if not completely at least minimise its use. An analysis of 455 common plastic products, including supposedly BPA-free ones, found that 70% tested positive for estrogenic activity; that number went up to 95% when the plastics were microwaved. These chemicals used in plastic making are also found to be ‘endocrine-disrupting chemicals’ capable of interfering with the way our glands produce hormones that govern virtually everything our bodies do, including the way we reproduce, grow, sleep, heal, develop mentally etc.(1,2)
For microwave approval, the testing agency estimates the ratio of plastic surface area to food, how long the container is likely to be in the microwave, how often a person is likely to eat from the container, and how hot the food can be expected to get during microwaving. After a series of tests only then the approval is given.
What is Plastic grading?
We often see some number mostly at bottom. Its just the grading which indicates its utility. Before you go for shopping this time, just put in mind to make a note of numbering and for what exactly you need them for!
The health risks of cooking in plastic seem to include all forms of plastic according to literatures. The worst offender is 6, polystyerene. Plastics with numbering 1, 2 and 4 are the safest.
Points to remember:
- Pregnant ladies should minimise their use of microwave and specially food cooked in it using plastic.
- If you’re concerned about plastic wraps or containers in the microwave, transfer food to glass or ceramic containers labelled for use in microwave ovens.
- Don’t let plastic wrap touch food during microwaving because it may melt. Wax paper, kitchen parchment paper or a domed container that fits over a plate or bowl are better alternatives.
- Most takeout containers, water bottles, and plastic cups are not microwave-safe. Choose bottled drinks and processed foods wisely. Avoid plastic containers labeled with the numbers 3, 6, or 7, which is said to contain more of phthalates.
- Microwavable takeout dinner trays are formulated for one-time use only and will say so on the package.
- Old, scratched, or cracked containers, or those that have been microwaved many times, may leach out more plasticizers.
- If you’re using plastic containers for storage, let the food cool before storing, then refrigerate it immediately. Avoid plastics and containers that are visibly damaged, stained or have a bad smell
- The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates there are more than 800 of these chemicals in use in such vast quantities that they are everywhere — not just in the products, but also in the environment and the food chain. So do not panic and use them judiciously.