Wrapping Up the Facts on Plastic



I've been inundated by friends and family with erroneous information and questions about using plastics in the microwave and in the kitchen.

Now, Jennifer Killinger, director of the plastics division of the American Chemistry Council, has substantiated my information with some interesting facts and disclaimers.

It's time for consumers to become knowledgeable on this subject so they can discount ridiculous e-mail hoaxes that keep circulating. Any plastic container, package and wrap specially designed to withstand microwave temperatures is marked as such. It will say "microwave safe," carry a microwave symbol or provide instructions for proper microwave use. Any of these are indications that the product can be used for microwaving when following the directions provided.

The rules for using plastic wrap in the microwave are as follows: Place plastic wrap loosely over bowls or dishes during reheating or cooking (when a casserole lid is not available). Using plastic wrap helps retain moisture to allow food to cook more evenly and thoroughly and prevents spattering.

It's best to use wrap that's labeled for microwave use or includes microwave-cooking instructions. The American Chemistry Council recommends turning back a corner of the wrap for release of steam or making a slit in the wrap covering the food.

Foods with high fat content become very hot in a microwave oven, and can cause melting of the plastic wrap. It is important to leave at least an inch of space between these foods and the wrap covering the dish in order to prevent the wrap from melting due to contact with extremely hot foods. If necessary, use toothpicks inserted in the food to keep the space between the wrap and the food. Plastic wrap should never touch the food in the microwave.

Do not reheat food in takeout containers or reused containers, like empty butter tubs or dessert topping containers. Never reuse plastic trays provided with microwavable meals after use.

Now, for the skinny about dioxins being released when items cook in the microwave. Contrary to e-mail circulating the Internet, the vast majority of plastics used in wraps and packaging do not contain the chemical constituents needed to form dioxins.

Dioxins form at very high temperatures, much higher than those generated by microwave cooking. The same is true for microwavable plastic containers. Internet hoaxers allege that Johns Hopkins University and Walter Reed Army Medical Center state that dioxins are released from plastics when used in the microwave. Both institutions have publicly disavowed these claims.

The next time you receive a warning about using plastics in the kitchen, check out information on urban-legend Web sites like www.snopes.com.


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