Your everyday plates might not be as microwave friendly as you think it is

Microwaves are one of the best modern appliances for meeting the culinary needs of the people. It is currently a common part of the normal middle-class household which meets the need of modern humans by offering a fast cooking solution that aligns with the fast lifestyle of the individuals. The microwave also complements the frozen or reserved food as this can make bland frozen meals ready to eat in a matter of seconds making this a major benefit that increases the convenience of the consumers.  However, while the usefulness of the device is undeniable there are many myths among the consumers regarding the mysterious nature of the microwave oven. The scientific facts behind the phenomenon like marshmallows or eggs bursting or metal sparking in the microwave are mostly unknown by the general populace and this adds to the mystery of the microwave which propagates these myths relating to the health hazards or food quality related to microwave cooked or heated meals. The containers used in a microwave are the source of many of these myths which are based on whether the utensil used can affect the food quality or pose any dangers to the users. There are some preconceived notions about plastic, glass or metal containers used in microwaves and the safety of the user giving rise to the microwave-safe containers which are marked by microwave or/and some wavy lines indicating the radiation on the bottom of the container. However many news reports and internet sources have made people wary as the instances of the dangers caused by melted plastic or electrical short circuits are often seen in these sources.

Are the containers safe?

The importance of microwaves in the modern kitchen makes it indispensable and thus the question of which containers to use in microwaves to ensure safety is an important question that is discussed extensively in modern society. Many national and international organizations like the World Health Organization use a number of standards to ensure microwave safety. However, it is impossible to check every container or manufacturer in the market-leading to much low quality or counterfeit products endangering the safety of the consumers. Therefore, these standardizations cannot completely ensure the health and safety of the consumers. This makes the question of whether the dinnerware is microwave friendly or not an important factor to consider. There are general instructions regarding the microwave-safe containers which warn about the risks of using commercial storage containers for cheese, margarine and butter along with foam and china with metallic ornamentation in microwave ovens. However, this does not control the standards of the manufacturing of the microwave-safe containers making the choice of the containers an important factor for the frozen or stored food. 

What happens when an unsafe container is used in the microwave?

The first effect that has to be considered when cooking microwave, is the melting of the container. The short microwaves emitted by the microwave ovens cause food molecules to vibrate at high frequency causing friction which results in the heating. The fat content of the food can get too hot due to the friction in many cases which might cause a container to melt. Another danger rises from the metal ornamentation in containers made of microwave-safe materials like glass or ceramic. The metal foil used in ornamentation can cause sparks resulting in electrical fires. Another danger arises from the toxic chemical and other pollutants which can leach into the food from the material or the glazing used on the containers. While the first two dangers are more straightforward the third danger is ore insidious as this affects the health of the users without any obvious outward signs making this a hidden danger. This is the most prominent danger in erroneously labelled or counterfeit containers sold as microwave safe. While the general identity for materials like glass or ceramic containers might indicate safe for use in the microwave it is not necessarily true. Only specifically formulated glaze can make sure that the materials like ceramic ensure extreme heat of the microwave. The ceramic or glass that is fired at lower temperatures can easily crack when used in a microwave indicating the need for abiding by established standards of microwave safety instead of general assumptions about microwave-safe materials.

The dilemma of microwave-safe container labelling

The plastic is a popular material in modern times for storage purposes and these items are often marked as numbers inside the triangular recycle symbol. The food-safe containers made of polyethylene terephthalate (01) polypropylene (05), polystyrene (06), and polycarbonate (07) are marked by the associated numbers. However, this marking is not in any way related to microwave safety. Polypropylene releases harmful chemicals under specific circumstances that mimics oestrogen causing adverse health effects. While some polypropylene made containers might be microwave safe as they do not leech chemical under limited temperature, there is no way to ensure this.  Polystyrene releases styrene which is a carcinogen which is imperceptible and can cause health issues in the long run.  polyethylene terephthalate or pet releases antimony which is also harmful. The polycarbonate releases the chemical ‘bisphenol A’ when microwaved. The safe levels of BPA leaching are often used as a standard for microwave safety for the food making this a major factor to consider when buying microwave-safe plastic containers or heating commercial food delivered via takeout. 

Therefore, microwave-safe labels cannot be taken for granted as most of these are only safe under certain conditions. For example, ceramic or glass containers which might be normally microwaved safe but leeches chemical if the glazing is cracked or scratched. The same can be said for the while reheating food in a container might be safe while cooking in the same utensil for longer periods might result in the leaching of chemicals making it unsafe. This is especially applicable for takeout containers made of Styrofoam or plastic wraps marked as microwave friendly as these containers are safe only when reheating when the temperature is under a certain threshold but starts to melt at higher temperatures.