I've heard a lot about harmful chemicals in plastics, but I really didn't know which plastics are safe and which ones aren't. So I researched it, but most articles had long dissertations about the scientific aspects of plastics.
What I really wanted to know was which ones are safe to use in the microwave. Good Housekeeping did the research for us and provided a list of acceptable plastics to use in the microwave. I've included some excerpts here, but read the entire article by Florence Williams for a very extensive take on this subject.
"We all do it: Pop a plate of leftovers covered with plastic wrap in the microwave or warm up extra tomato sauce in a plastic container. But news reports have suggested that this may not be perfectly safe, that if there are chemicals — phthalates and BPA — in the plastic, they might migrate into our food. How likely is this?
To find out, we shopped at supermarkets and mass merchandisers for leading brands of microwave-safe containers, wraps, and bags, and at a dollar store for some so-called value brands. We also tossed into our shopping cart packages of best-selling frozen dinners for both children and adults and plastic liners designed to be used in a slow cooker. In short, we gathered together a potpourri of the kind of plastic items most of us use for heating foods.
We shipped several samples of each item off to an independent lab, where they were shredded into bits, then analyzed to see if any detectable amounts of BPA and phthalates were present in the products. The good news: Twenty-seven of the products tested contained no phthalates or BPA.
Three, however, did contain low levels of BPA:
- the containers (or bottom sections) of Rubbermaid Easy Find Lids,
- Rubbermaid Premier containers, and
- Glad Storage Zipper Bags;
Glad Press'n Seal wrap had low levels of both phthalates and BPA.
Next, the lab tested these four items with "food simulants" — chemicals designed to stand in for real food in a lab. (Our federal health agencies, like the FDA, allow the use of food simulants in testing.)
Results: No detectable BPA or phthalates migrated from the products into the simulants.
For a real-life test, we microwaved Old World Style Ragú Traditional Smooth Pasta Sauce and Heinz Home Style Gravy Savory Beef in the two Rubbermaid containers and in a glass bowl covered with Press'n Seal. As you're unlikely to heat up tomato sauce or gravy in a plastic bag, we eliminated the Glad Storage Zipper Bags from this part of the testing. The lab first evaluated the foods straight from the jars to ensure that there were no phthalates or BPA present in the sauces before they were transferred to the test containers. In addition to testing foods heated in brand-new containers, we used ones that we had put through 30 rounds of microwaving and cleaning in the dishwasher, to see if wear and tear made a difference.
Clearly good news: None of the samples of sauce or gravy had detectable levels of either BPA or phthalates.
Products tested that contained no phthalates or BPA:
- Tupperware CrystalWave container
- Tupperware CrystalWave lid
- Tupperware Rock 'N Serve container
- Tupperware Rock 'N Serve lid
- Rubbermaid EasyFind Lids lid
- Rubbermaid Premier lid
- Glad SimplyCooking Microwave Steaming Bags
- Ziploc Brand Zip 'n Steam Microwave Steam Cooking Bags
- GladWare Containers with Interlocking Lids container
- GladWare Containers with Interlocking Lids lid
- Ziploc Brand Containers with Snap 'N Seal Lids container
- Ziploc Brand Containers with Snap 'N Seal Lids lid
- Webster Industries Good Sense storage container
- Webster Industries Good Sense storage container lid
- United Plastics 21 oz Bowl
- Saran Premium wrap
- Saran Cling Plus Clear Plastic Wrap
- Glad Cling Wrap Clear Plastic Wrap
- Reynolds Clear Seal-Tight Plastic Wrap
- Ziploc Brand Storage Bags with Double Zipper
- Ziploc Brand Freezer Bags with Double Zipper
- Glad Freezer Storage Bags
- Reynolds SlowCooker Liners
- Kid Cuisine All Star Chicken Breast Nuggets container
- Kid Cuisine All Star Chicken Breast Nuggets film cover
- Stouffer's frozen Homestyle Classics Lasagna with Meat & Sauce tray
- Stouffer's frozen Homestyle Classics Lasagna with Meat & Sauce film covering
The following items contained low levels of phthalates or PBA but the chemicals did not leach into food during microwave heating:
- Rubbermaid EasyFind Lids container
- Rubbermaid Premier container
- Glad Press'n Seal Multipurpose Sealing Wrap
- Glad Food Storage Bags*
*Tested with simulants but not food."
Here's some more helpful information:
"The insides of food cans are often lined with an epoxy resin that keeps corroding metal away from the food. But bisphenol A in that resin can migrate into the foods; in fact, it's the major source of our exposure to the chemical, says the government's National Toxicology Program.
While the FDA has issued reassuring statements about the risk, other experts aren't so convinced. In 2007, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group found BPA in more than half of the 97 food cans it tested, with the highest levels coming from chicken soup, infant formula, and ravioli. Just one to three servings of those foods with those concentrations could expose a woman or a child to BPA at levels that cause serious adverse effects in animal tests, the group concluded.
Though you may see "BPA-free" on some canned goods, food manufacturers are not required to list the chemical on labels, so you have no way of knowing whether it's present. To limit your family's exposure:
- Buy more fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables.
- Choose soups and broths that come in aseptic boxes or dried soup mixes in nonplastic bags.
- Be extra cautious with infants: If you use commercial formula, buy it in powdered form, which comes in a foil-lined cardboard container and shouldn't have any BPA, says the FDA.
- Use BPA-free baby bottles and sippy cups."
Other safety topics:
Cooler Safety 101
Demystifying Food Expiration Dates
Preventive Organizing - Changing Smoke Alarm Batteries and Other Preventive Measures You Never Knew About