a man putting fast food in the microwave with plastic wrap

Is It Safe To Use Plastic Wrap In The Microwave?

Microwave ovens are now commonplace and used in almost every home. They make cooking and reheating food quick and effortless, ideal for modern life. One common practice is to cover food in plastic wrap to avoid splatters while cooking, but is it safe to use plastic wrap in the microwave?

Plastic wrap is generally considered safe to use in microwave ovens. The USDA advises thicker plastic wrap should be used and kept from touching food while cooking. The FDA’s guidance is similar, and to only use plastic materials labeled as microwave safe.

Although the guidance appears relatively straightforward, this article delves deeper into the many safety aspects of using plastic wrap in a microwave.

What Is Plastic Wrap

plastic wrap

Plastic wrap is a transparent, sturdy film often used for commercial purposes like wrapping pallets. The thinner wraps commonly used in households are widely known as cling wrap, saran wrap, or plastic food wrap.

Plastic wraps are perfect for sealing in freshness or protecting your food from contamination. The wrap forms a barrier that stops oxygen and moisture from entering or leaving the wrapped food.

The strength and durability of plastic wrap depend on its chemical makeup. While you would assume that stronger wraps are better, they often contain chemicals that are not considered safe to be used with food.

Can You Microwave Plastic Wrap

Plastic wrap over the food after reheated in microwave.
Plastic wrap over the food after reheated in microwave.

Microwave ovens don’t cause direct damage to plastic wrap as the microwaves themselves will pass through most types of plastic, glass, and paper.

Microwaves work by vibrating moisture particles, such as those found in food and liquids. As these particles vibrate, they rub together and generate heat.

Although It is unlikely that microwave radiation will harm plastic wrap, direct exposure to heated substances may cause some low-quality plastic wraps to break down, melt, or burn.

Is it Safe To Microwave Plastic Wrap

As mentioned previously, the FDA advises only using plastic wrap labeled as microwave safe. This guidance is in line with the recommendations from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

There are two primary types of plastic wraps available which are:

  • PVC – Commercial grade plastic wraps containing DEHA.
  • LDPE or Low-Density Polythene – Usually labeled as microwave safe.

It would be best if you didn’t use PVC plastic wrap in the microwave as it can release toxins into food. Some of these toxins are known to cause cancer.

What Is The Best Plastic Wrap For Microwaves

Most low-density polythene plastic wraps are made from polymers that are not known to release harmful chemicals when exposed to high temperatures. These types of plastic are considered safe to use in the microwave.

Although the risk of harmful toxins leaching into food is significantly lower if you use microwave-safe cling wrap, you should still not allow it to touch your food or drink during heating and check for signs of heat damage.

A gap of 1 inch between your food and the cling wrap is necessary to avoid contamination. The gap keeps the plastic away from fats, sugars, and other compounds that can become extremely hot and cause the plastic to melt.

Can Using Plastic Wrap In A Microwave Cause Cancer

So far, no scientific evidence suggests that using plastic wrap in the microwave can cause cancer. Many myths surround using plastics in microwaves, and the main fear is that carcinogenic compounds from the plastic could contaminate your food.

While it is true that some plastics do contain some known carcinogenic chemicals such as dioxins, they are only released when the plastic becomes burnt or starts to melt. They are usually only released in tiny amounts and are unlikely to present a health hazard.

The FDA has gone to great lengths to ensure that microwave-safe materials have none of the known cancer-causing compounds present, so providing you stick to plastic wrap that is clearly labeled as microwave-safe, there should be no risk of exposure.

How Should You Microwave Plastic Wrap In A Microwave

Even though plastic wrap is considered microwave safe, there are still some best practices to follow.

Our understanding of the effects of microwave radiation on plastics will evolve, and what we consider safe right now may be regarded as hazardous to our bodies in the future.

Top Tips For Microwaving With Plastic Wrap

The USDA and FDA have provided guidelines when using plastic or plastic wrap to cover food in a microwave oven. Some of these guidelines I have already discussed.

Below is a list of the top tips you should follow.

  • Do not allow plastic wrap to touch your food during heating.
  • Use a high-sided bowl to keep the plastic wrap raised above the surface of the food.
  • Cover food loosely so that steam can escape avoiding scorching the plastic.
  • Check for signs of heat damage, such as melting, burning, or charring.
  • Use thicker, good-quality plastic wrap rather than thinner varieties.
  • Only use plastic wrap that is labeled as microwave-safe.
  • Never reuse plastic wrap that has already been used to cover food in the microwave.

Microwavable plastics shouldn’t break down when exposed to high temperatures. Following these simple tips will minimize the risk of chemicals leaching out of the plastic wrap and contaminating your food.

What To Use Instead Of Plastic Wrap In A Microwave

a woman putting food in the microwave

If you prefer not to risk using plastic wrap to cover your food in the microwave, there are safer alternatives that you should consider.

If you are heating liquid in a mug or jug and want to reduce splatters, cover it with a kitchen towel or a microwave-safe plate. If you are reheating a plate of food, cover it with a bowl.

Microwaves will pass through many non-reflective materials, many of which are easier to use than cling wrap and have no safety risks involved, so while plastic wrap can be convenient, it is not essential. There are plenty of other options available.

Wrap Up

So there you have it, everything you need to know about using plastic wrap in the microwave.

Hopefully, this article has helped to clear up any confusion, and you can now make an informed decision about whether or not you want to use it.

The FDA has conducted extensive research to ensure that plastics labeled as safe in microwaves are both nontoxic and unlikely to be damaged when heated. Always consult the labeling for manufacturer guidelines before using any plastics in a microwave oven.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Use Plastic In A Microwave?

While some types of plastic shouldn’t be used in a microwave, most plastics are perfectly safe. However, it is always best to consult the labeling before using any plastic product in a microwave oven.

How long can you microwave plastic wrap?

It is generally safe to microwave plastic wrap for around 20 minutes at lower temperatures and no more than 2 minutes at temperatures as high as 250°F. It is best to consult the labeling to be sure.

Can I reheat food in plastic containers?

You can safely reheat food in plastic containers provided they are labeled as microwave safe. As with all plastics, FDA-approved microwave-safe plastics contain no known harmful toxins, and the plastic is less likely to break down at high temperatures.

Sources

USDA – What Materials Are Safe To Use In A Microwave Oven

FDA.GOV – 5 Tips for Using Your Microwave Oven Safely

Penn State University – Does putting plastic in the microwave cause cancer?

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