Perhaps you were one of the folks who received – sometime in 2002 – an e-mail, purportedly from reputable sources (depending on which version you saw, it was Johns Hopkins University, Walter Reed Army Medical Center or Dr. Edward Fujimoto of Castle Hospital), stating that heating plastic in the microwave or freezing water in plastic bottles releases toxins, such as dioxin and DEHA. This e-mail was resurrected a couple more times – in 2004 and again in 2007 – due to various additions, but the core message was essentially unchanged. These e-mails were basically debunked, on sites such as Snopes and others that set out to address “urban legends”, but as is often the case, there are brightly glowing embers of truth underlying so much embellished, proverbial smoke.
Why I am bringing this topic up now? Kev and I had the pleasure of hanging out with a bunch of family this weekend due to the arrival of our newest member, Baby Jack (I miss you already, little guy!). As we were collectively pulling a dinner together, I asked the hostess-with-the-mostest if we could free the soon-to-be-heated rice grains from their plastic prisons and warm them in a glass bowl vs. microwaving them in their handy-dandy manufacturer’s “Just Heat and Serve!” packaging. I was greeted with the sweetest, if not mischievous, grin and the reply that there were simply no glass bowls available and to just go ahead with the microwaving. Some more good-natured ribbing ensued, and another kitchen helper popped the rice bags in the mic (as I hunted about for a lead-free, ceramic alternative to the MIA glass option). As I verbally tripped about, trying to explain why I think it’s important to avoid microwaving plastic, I lamely ended up muttering something about how I will add her to my list of folks for whom I want to gift with glass storage/cooking/heating bowls. Kevin smiles encouragingly at me and says, “There’s your next post!” Ah … the beauty of the blog!
So – really – this is a bunch of words to simply say it makes sense to avoid heating/storing food in plastic. And I maintain this stance, for a few different reasons. First, and most importantly, there is general agreement that substances used in plastics formulations do leach into food. Period. We are not even talking about heating the plastic – just plain ol’ sitting around in plastic can lead to a migration of composite materials into your consumables. Of course, it is true that food-grade plastics are held to different standards than your non-consumable plastic storage containers – and yet, chemical transfer still occurs. We are expected to take comfort in the fact that the FDA has established a range of safety standards within which foods may contain certain chemical compounds. Oh, how I yearn for the days when I actually believed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration truly had Americans’ best interests at heart; I simply do not have faith that the published “safety” data are legit. Too often the end result is that the players with the big money get to call the shots and the public is offered what is in their vs. our best interest.
There is also all sorts of information regarding “one-time use” (as the name suggests, containers that are designed to be tossed after initial use) and “microwave safe” plastics; there are guides to assist consumers in determining which plastics are more vs. less stable (thus less likely to break down and emit toxins). For example, you can look on the bottom of plastic containers and find the little triangle with a number inside it – if you find a 3, 6 or 7, avoid these strenuously as they contain BPA; 4s or 5s are deemed by some to be “safe”, but they should be used sparingly and never microwaved; 1s or 2s are considered the “safest” and recommended for food and liquid storage – but yet again, folks are warned to “never” microwave them (Bottom Line/Natural Healing; Summer 2010 – 3).
Despite all this, when it’s so, SO easy to avoid using plastic, why not? It’s as simple as plopping your lunch or dinner entrée onto a paper plate (white, unprinted, uncoated and non-bleached is best-case scenario; at the bare minimum, uncoated, unprinted/white) &/or heat-proof glass &/or lead-free ceramic dish/bowl, covering it with a non-bleached, white, non-printed paper towel or another paper plate (to avoid mic splatters) and heat away! Or, store your leftovers in heat-proof, microwave-safe glass containers, and when ready to eat, remove the lid, cover (as above) and heat in the same dish in which you had previously stored the deliciousness! What’s not to like about that? It’s easy to find such functional storage/heating containers: Pyrex and Anchor Hocking are just two brands that offer a variety of affordable options (and can be found at your local Target or Walmart; however, after recently reading about Walmart supporting pork producers who use gestation cages, I strongly advise against giving them your business). Lead-free, heat-proof ceramics are also easy to find, as a Google search will readily demonstrate (an example: Emerson Creek Pottery - made right here in the US of A no less!).
Parchment paper and waxed paper are two other sound options. Again, think unbleached and chlorine free; If You Care products include unbleached, “Totally Chlorine-Free” (TCF) Parchment Baking Paper (in addition to a bunch of other cool, environmentally-kind products) and Natural Value has unbleached, natural waxed paper bags (and so MUCH more … check them out!). We find both of these brands at our local Jimbo’s and even Major Market (nice to see mainstream grocery stores carrying such things!).
The “So What?”, take-away message I am hoping to impart is this: avoid heating (storing, etc …) consumables in plastic because it just makes sense … why bother with risk when avoiding it all together is beyond easy?
PS – just in case you are wondering when more food and recipe posts are coming, hold tight – ! – they will be here SOON! The work that is being done in our kitchen has taken WEEKS longer than we could have ever imagined! Perhaps week after next we’ll be put back together and rarin’ to go! Thank you for your patience! :0)