A recent study has revealed concerning findings about microwaving plastic food containers. According to researchers, this common practice can result in the release of billions of toxic plastic particles, posing potential health risks.
The study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, focused on plastic baby food containers made from polypropylene and a reusable pouch made of polyethylene, both of which are FDA-approved plastics. The researchers filled these containers with deionized water or 3% acetic acid (simulating acidic consumables) and heated them at full power for three minutes in a 1,000-watt microwave.
The results were alarming. Microwaving these plastic containers caused the release of over two billion nanoplastics and four million microplastics per square centimeter of container in some instances. These tiny plastic particles are potentially hazardous, and the researchers discovered that after two days, approximately 75% of cultured embryonic kidney cells exposed to these particles had died.
Kazi Albab Hussain, the lead author of the study and a doctoral student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, emphasized the importance of understanding the levels of micro- and nanoplastics that individuals might be exposed to. Numerous studies, including this one, have demonstrated the link between the toxicity of these plastics and the extent of exposure.
The research team also examined the impact of refrigeration and room-temperature storage on food and drink containers over a six-month period. Their experiments indicated that both scenarios could lead to the release of micro- and nanoplastics.
The study highlighted that infants consuming products with microwaved water and toddlers consuming microwaved dairy products might be at the greatest risk of ingesting relatively high concentrations of plastic particles.
It is worth noting that the major culprits of dangerous plastics are man-made chemicals like Phthalates and Bisphenol A (BPA), often added to plastic to maintain its shape and flexibility. These substances have been linked to hormone disruptions, respiratory issues, cardiovascular diseases, and other health problems, especially in pregnant individuals and children. While not directly related to microwaving plastics, Phthalates and BPA are commonly found in various types of food packaging and other environmental exposures. To minimize exposure, consumers are advised to avoid plastics labeled with recycling codes 3 (phthalates) and 7 (bisphenols).
Exposing plastics to heat, such as microwaving or dishwashing, can increase the risk of these harmful substances leaching into food. Therefore, it is essential to use only microwave-safe plastic containers specifically indicated as such by the manufacturer. Cold storage containers like those used for cottage cheese or yogurt should never be used in the microwave.
If individuals wish to avoid plastic entirely, they can transfer their food and beverages into microwave-safe glass or ceramic containers, which also come with removable lids for convenience.