Microwaving plastic food containers? That might be a recipe for disaster
Whatever comes easy doesn’t always end up great. So if you’re feeling lazy and planning to just heat that plastic container of food into the microwave, think again.
The microwave is probably everyone’s favorite kitchen convenience, but a recent study from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, found that microwaving plastic can be detrimental to your health.
Kazi Albab Hussain, one of the researchers and also a new father, studied the dark secrets lurking in these plastic food containers we all thought were safe.
Hussain spilled the beans in a Wired interview about how those innocent-looking baby food containers are actually releasing microplastics when microwaved. Their findings were published in Environmental Science & Technology.
Using a microscope, Hussain discovered that a group of microplastics seeped into the plastic containers. Even more alarming, he found that a disturbing 75 percent of cultured kidney cells died after a 48-hour exposure to the microplastics from the microwaved baby food containers.
When microwaved, these microplastics produce nanoplastics—tiny terrors that slip through cell membranes. Microwaving plastic releases nanoplastics and toxic components called leachates.
Before you microwave that plastic container full of food or liquid consider this — a new study found that microwaving certain plastics can release millions of microplastics and billions of nanoplastics. #plastic #food pic.twitter.com/XM5NfMTslp
— Scripps News (@scrippsnews) August 1, 2023
John Boland, a chemistry professor from Trinity College Dublin, told the magazine that these nanoplastics “make their way to places they shouldn’t.”
Microplastics pass through our systems and get expelled eventually, according to Bolden, but nanoplastics are worse and can be very toxic, which can wreak havoc on our health.
During the microwaving process, microplastics also collect a complex set of microbes called plastisphere and transfer them into the body.
Once they’ve snuck into our systems, “the chemicals used in plastics hack hormones,” confirmed Leonardo Trasande, a professor at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine and the director of the Center for the Investigation of Environmental Hazards.
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Hormones send signals to molecules, so these chemicals, which are basically endocrine disruptors, have the potential to mess with the body—from metabolism and fertility to sexual development.
While Hussain’s team pioneered testing plastic toxicities on cells, an existing study published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials also found that these toxic plastics can also cause inflammation, cell death, and oxidative stress.
Hussain and the research team even tried using jars labeled “microwave-safe” as per USFDA regulations, but they found that babies are at high risk due to the amounts of microplastics (50,000 microplastics per square meter) Hussain saw using the microscope.
Bolden said that scientists should keep researching to further understand what particles plastics release under certain conditions. Only by doing so, new legislation on plastic production can be underway.
Here are some alternatives you can do.
- Use stainless steel or reusable glass instead
- Never pour hot liquids into plastic containers
- Cover food with an overturned plate instead of a plastic wrap
- Use ceramic or glass cookware
And please, stop microwaving plastic of any sort.