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Injury Prevention and Safety

How Safe are Holiday Leftovers Microwaved in Plastic?

Most people do not think twice about covering their holiday leftovers in plastic and re-heating them in the microwave. But maybe they should.

Studies done have shown that in some plastics, a chemical called DEHA can seep into food when heated. High levels of the DEHA have been shown to cause cancer in some lab animals. Consumers are urged to follow the guidelines offered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on how to safely re-heat food in the microwave.

For example, the guidelines call for leaving at least two inches of space between plastic wrap and food when microwaving. In addition, microwave-safe plastic wrap should be placed loosely over the food to keep in moisture and allow food to cook evenly.

According to the FDA, the following items are safe to use in microwaves:

Items that should never be microwaved include:

The FDA also cautions against using restaurant carry-out containers - particularly foam plates or boxes - and margarine tubs in the microwave. In addition, plastic microwavable meal containers are meant for "one-time" use only and should not be re-used in the microwave.

Before using any plastics in the microwave, read the fine print on the packaging to make sure the items are microwavable safe. Some plastics carry warnings against using them in microwaves. The dilemma is that when consumers look at the fine print, it's not always clear whether an item is microwavable. This leads to some people unwittingly coming into contact with dangerous chemical toxicities.

While there is no evidence yet that chemicals migrating from plastics into food will cause problems in humans, consumers should tend to err on the side of caution. Instead of using plastic containers, it is recommended to use glass or microwave-safe containers or plates to re-heat leftovers in the microwave.

This article is based on information provided by The Ohio State University Medical Center Media Relations Office and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission, 2006.

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Last Reviewed: Dec 15, 2006

Glen F Aukerman, MD, DABFP Glen F Aukerman, MD, DABFP
Formerly:
Professor of Family Medicine
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University