What is the fastest and easiest way to heat your meal? Microwave, right!
Yes. With that in mind comes the debate: is it safe to use microwavable plastics?
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration(FDA), small amounts of BPA(Bisphenol A) in microwavable plastic may migrate to foods, especially when heat is applied. But their study further shows that a small dose of BPA exposure isn’t harmful to our health.
To be extra careful, the FDA recommends using BPA-free plastic or glass containers. And as for toaster ovens, microwavable plastics aren’t safe. Ceramics or metal plates can be used.
Now, let us explore a few critical factors about microwavable plastics.
What exactly is microwavable plastic?
Plastics that are designed to withstand harsh temperatures without melting or leaking are called microwavable plastics. All these food-graded plastics are first tested by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and then released for general use.
Microwavable plastics are used a lot in food products, especially in pre-maid foods. It is to be noted that, although these containers are made to endure high temperatures, they shouldn’t be heated for a long time. Otherwise, these containers will melt, destroying the food and the oven.
These microwavable plastics are best used to reheat leftovers or to heat pre-made foods like bento boxes.
Which plastics are considered microwave safe?
Takeout has become very popular since the pandemic. Now how do we know if those takeout containers are microwave safe?
The heat tolerance level of a plastic container must be at least 250 degrees Fahrenheit. In many plastic containers, there are symbols at the bottom that tell the user if the container is microwave safe. And if there aren’t any symbols, there are numbers from 1-7 called resin codes.
Each number represents various types of plastic. The following plastics are microwave safe:
- Plastic #2, High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
- Plastic #5, Polypropylene (PP)
- Bagasse and molded fiber
Which plastics aren’t microwave-safe?
- Plastic#1, Polyethylene Terephthalate
- Plastic #6, polystyrene
Now how do we identify that a container is not microwave safe?
By looking at the bottom of the containers. There are signs inside at the bottom of the containers, which are numbers from 1-7. We have to remember that numbers 1 and 6 are not microwave-safe. So before putting your containers inside the microwave, always check the bottom.
Can plastic containers be used in toaster ovens?
No. Any sort of non-metal dish or container can not be used in toaster ovens. Any dishes that contain plastic or wood can not be used.
Can we use aluminum pots and pans? Yes, we can! Aluminum is a good heat conductor, and here heat spreads homogeneously. Thus, it cooks the food evenly. This is why it’s the perfect bakeware.
Now, what about glasses? Can we use glass containers? Of course! Microwave-safe glass dishes can be used for cooking in oven toasters. We can also use silicon molds for baking cupcakes and muffins in toaster ovens. However, it may take a little longer to bake because it conducts heat slowly.
Which is the best bakeware for an OTG/toaster oven?
- Cast iron
- Stainless steel
- silicon molds
What is a toaster oven good for?
The main thing that the toaster oven is good at is reheating food where you want the food to be crisp.
In a microwave, we heat soups, curries, or just food that has a bit of a liquid component. But you wouldn’t want to reheat pizza or a day-old bagel in a microwave. Because then the food will get mushy and lose its crispiness. That’s where the toaster oven comes in.
Oven toasters help retain the crispiness of foods. An oven toaster will keep the food from getting soggy and weird. Especially if you’re a texture person, a toaster oven is for you. It certainly won’t be able to heat soup.
Another thing about OTG/toaster ovens that surprises people is broiling. Most toaster ovens have a setting for broiling food. The reason why it’s so good for broiling because your food inside the oven toaster stays close to the heating elements.
Also, since the food stays very close to the heating elements, keep a good eye on your food. Otherwise, your food will burn to ashes.
What is microwavable plastic made up of?
Yeah, polypropylene is the magic material. It is a synthetic resin and thermoplastic polymer that combines propylene monomers. This material is used for fibers, films, and Moulding materials.
But why is polypropylene used specifically to manufacture microwavable plastic? It is because the material is very flexible and highly malleable. It is also preferred because it has good fatigue resistance, is lightweight, flexible, and has a slippery surface. It is impact resistant, electrical insulator, transmissive, and better for the environment.
Polypropylene is considered a suitable product for certain containers which are rigid, and capable of supporting content. With all these great qualities, it is regarded as the steel of the plastic industry. This polymer has affected many other fields of work like automotive, medical, clothing, packaging, and more as a better solution than other materials.
You might wonder how or why polypropylene is the desired material to produce microwavable plastic. We must learn a little bit of science to understand the working mechanism.
The chemical composition of the polypropylene (C3H6)n is transparent to microwave as it does not absorb microwave energy and has a relatively high melting point(337 °C).
Now polypropylene is preferred over other similar polymers because it has the smallest environmental impact of all plastics. Compared to PET, PS, or PVC, it produces less CO2 and less solid waste in weight.
Is microwavable plastic recyclable?
We all know about recycling by now. By looking at the symbol at the bottom of the containers, we can determine if plastic is recyclable or not.
You put them in the recycle bin and they get taken away to give those plastics a new purpose, right? Well, sadly, up to 70% of plastics that are collected to be recycled aren’t recycled.
Now, what happens to the plastics that aren’t recycled? This plastic either gets landfilled or dumped into oceans, severely harming the environment. Or it gets burnt, and that smoke intoxicates the air and creates greenhouse gases.
There are seven numbers used to identify plastics and their properties. These numbers are called the “resin identification code.” But not all of them are recyclable or usable in the microwave.
What are these plastics?
#1: PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)
PET makes up about 11% of global plastic waste. These plastics are used as water bottles, soda bottles, and transparent hygiene bottles like shampoo, hand soap, etc. These bottles are easy to recycle and should be recycled.
#2: HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)
HDAP is also recyclable. HDPE bottles are used for detergent containers, juice, and conditioner bottles.
#3: PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
PVC makes up about 5% of global plastic waste. These plastics are used for construction pieces. These plastics can be both hard and flexible. It is also used to make plastic toys. PVC isn’t recyclable.
#4: LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene)
LDPE is light plastic and is used to make products that we need daily. Products like trash bags, squeegees, and snack bags. LDPE is hard to recycle, but it is recyclable.
#5: PP (Polypropylene)
These plastics can be flexible or sturdy depending on the density of the plastic. It is recyclable.
#6: PS (Polystyrene/ styrofoam)
These are very difficult to recycle and very few recyclers recycle them.
#7: Other Plastics
These plastics are mixed. These are mixed with papers and other materials. These plastics aren’t recyclable.
Microwavable plastics are safe, but not entirely safe. Prolonged use of these types of plastics can cause severe health issues. I recommend using glass or ceramic pots instead of microwavable plastics in ovens.