A plastic food wrap or cling film offers a much more convenient way to keep foods covered and fresh than traditional tinfoil. Most of us have used one or the other at least once in our lifetime to cover food items while they are lying around inside our refrigerator. Apart from refrigerating purposes, these wraps also serve to wrap food items and are also used for storage purposes.
However, a debate has been on for quite some time regarding the safety of microwaving plastic wrap. People have always been concerned about the possibility of such wraps leaking dangerous chemicals when microwaved.
Is It Safe to Use Plastic Wrap in the Microwave Oven?
In general, you can microwave plastic wrap. Microwaving plastic food wrap for reheating food is perfectly fine as long as you stick with quality wraps labeled “microwave safe.”
Originally plastic wrap was made of polyvinyl chloride or PVC. The reason why earlier manufacturers used PVC in the manufacture of plastic food wrap was because it had a certain property that other plastics lacked. Namely, PVC had the ability to cling onto wet items better than materials.
However, as the popularity of PVC-based plastic wraps spread across the globe, it became apparent that PVC was not the best material to use when making food wrap, as shown by many studies that are being conducted over the years.
This type of plastic is believed to leach plasticizers into food when heated, regardless of whether it is done in microwave ovens or other heating methods. Fatty foods, cheeses, and meats, in particular, were found to draw out these plasticizers when heated in PVC-based plastic wrap more than any other food item.
Furthermore, there is an environmental concern that arises with using PVC in the manufacture of plastic wraps since this type of plastic is not recyclable.
This became very alarming to health officials, and hence manufacturers of plastic wrap had to remove PVC or change it for another material. As a result, many plastic wraps nowadays are no longer made from PVC but instead are constructed from non-PVC materials, mainly low-density polyethylene (LDPE).
The FDA itself specifically states that both of those are considered to be safer than PVC. The only downside to these plastic wraps is they are not clingy like the PVC-based plastic wraps, and this usually results in them coming apart from foods easily.
There is also a new type of plastic food wrap that is being manufactured in the market today made of a proprietary formula that only seals when you press down on the plastic wrap. The FDA also considers this new type of plastic film to be safe.
Nowadays, it’s likely that the plastic wraps you’ll find in the supermarket and grocery stores are made of one or two of the above-mentioned plastics as opposed to PVC.
What About Saran Wrap?
As one of the most popular brands of plastic food wraps available in the market today, many have asked whether it is safe to use Saran plastic wrap in the microwave oven to reheat food.
Yes, you can microwave Saran wrap. It has been approved for microwave use by the United States Department of Agriculture.
Is It Safe to Eat Melted Plastic Wrap?
Another concern people have regarding plastic wraps is whether eating melted or burnt pieces of plastic wrap would be safe. Many might think that it’s not possible for them to come across heated pieces of plastic food wrap, but accidents do happen, and sometimes this can lead to inedible pieces of plastic food wrap ending up on your plate.
Is eating such pieces of plastic wrap safe? According to former FDA supervisory chemist Dr. Charles Breder, if you have accidentally cooked some plastic food wrap, worry not. You wouldn’t experience any harmful effects other than your food tasting awful.
Do Plastic Containers and Wraps in Microwaves Cause Cancer?
Plastic containers and wraps in microwaves that are labeled as microwave-safe are safe to use. No study has been conducted so far in which the ingestion of plastics used for food containers and microwave preparation caused cancer, said Dr. Jenny Permuth, assistant member of Moffitt’s Cancer Epidemiology Program (1).
For years, people have been warned about putting plastics in the microwave. The concern was that microwaves would release cancer-causing chemicals into food called dioxins. However, as mentioned above, most of today’s plastic containers and wraps are made of polyethylene.
Polyethylene in itself doesn’t contain any detectable dioxins. Rather, dioxins are created when plastics and other substances are melted or burned. So as long as you don’t burn or melt your plastic containers or wraps in the microwave oven, you can avoid dioxins from being created.
Another thing to remember is you should always use containers or wraps intended for microwave use. This doesn’t mean non-microwavable plastic wraps are necessarily unsafe; it means the FDA has not yet approved their use. So, it’s better to err on the side of safety and strictly use safe plastic wraps that are labeled microwave safe.
The Best Way to Use Plastic Wrap in the Microwave
The USDA recommends that the plastic not touch the actual food. So what does this mean? It’s simple. When using the microwave, you need to make sure there’s enough room between your food and the plastic wrap. To do this, you can use a deeper bowl or a shallow, wide bowl.
After making sure there is a gap between the food and the plastic wrap, you can heat it. Set the heating time-temperature based on a medium or slightly lower power level than usual to avoid melting the plastic. Check every 30 seconds to make sure the plastic wrap does not melt.
Also, remember to avoid covering oily foods with plastic wrap. Oily foods can get too hot when zapped in the microwave, possibly causing the plastic to melt.
The last tip is to be careful not to burn yourself on the steam. As the microwave oven heats the liquid inside the food, it will release steam that could burn you if you’re not careful. Be sure to puncture any bags or wrap to allow the steam to escape before taking the food out of the microwave.
How to Check If Your Plastic Container Is Really Safe to Use in the Microwave
As a general rule, you should make sure that the microwave-safe container is not heated significantly by the microwaves but rather by the conduction of heat from the food inside.
You can test this fairly easily by partially filling the container with some water and heating it in the microwave. If the container heats up more than the water, it is not safe for use in the microwave.
How Long Can You Microwave Plastic Wrap?
The amount of time you can microwave plastic wrap depends on the food you’re heating and the power level you use. Nevertheless, most sources recommend heating plastic wrap for 2 minutes maximum. If you have to heat the wrap for a long time, you can use a lower power level. Be sure to check its manual for any specific recommendations.
Conclusion paragraph: Microwave-safe plastic wrap is one of the most convenient ways to cover food for reheating. However, there are some simple rules that you should follow when using it in your microwave. The first rule is to make sure there’s enough room between your food and the plastic wrap.
If you’re microwaving a deep dish, use a deeper bowl instead; if you’re microwaving something wide like lasagna noodles, use a wide bowl with more space around them. Next, set the heating time temperature on the lowest level you can get away with. Also, be careful when removing it from the microwave.