It might be hard to recall a time when microwaving wasn't considered a casual cooking tool — or, for some, a legitimate cooking method. The speed at which you can defrost things, melt chocolate or make popcorn is unparalleled. These days, you might even get a microwave oven before you get a stovetop. And just imagine trying to heat up your lunch at work without one. (A lighter? A heating pad? Right.)
It shouldn't come as any surprise that there are health worries. (See: the dangers of cell phones, transformers, etc.) Recently The Wall Street Journal reiterated the concern that we might just be sacrificing our health for all that convenience.
Director of the Center of Environmental Security Rolf Halden warns of the heated plastic as the possible source of diseases like breast cancer and conditions like early onset puberty occuring with more frequency in developed than developing countries, according to the publication. The problem lies in two particular chemicals — phthalates and bisphenol A (a.k.a. BPA) — that can seep into your food from microwave oven use.
It's not the first time we've heard the dangers of microwaving with plastic materials. The American Chemistry Council even has a FAQ dedicated to the very topic. According to the organization, “choosing to microwave with a plastic item not labeled for microwave suitability isn't necessarily 'unsafe,' but you won't have the assurance of knowing the item was tested and evaluated for this purpose.” The ACC shies away from making a firm stance on the matter, deferring to the FDA and advising you instead to check the manufacturer labeling.
Still, this is pretty alarming given how many Americans own a microwave. Consider the stats: Microwave ovens were first introduced by Raytheon in 1947, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Roughly forty years later, 25% of households in the U.S. had a microwave oven. Less than decade later, that percentage increased to 90%.
It turns out that it's not all gloom and doom. Quite a few consumer brands seem to have caught on to the dangers — at least to an extent. Good Housekeeping conducted its own test last year, using 34 different plastic containers, wraps and bags to heat sauce or gravy. They also heated a couple of frozen meals. They sent samples of each microwaved item to a lab for analysis. One of the better news in the results was that 27 products contain neither phthalates nor BPA.
If you're still worried about the potential hazards, consider opting for glass or ceramic containers instead. As Dr. Halden points out, the food would taste better from even heating anyway. And it means you'll get to keep your plastics where you can see them.
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