Worried about chemicals in plastic? Use BPA-free containers labeled 1, 2, 4 or 5, and never put any plastic in the microwave or dishwasher.
Just because a plastic container is labeled “microwave-safe” doesn’t mean it won’t leach chemicals into your food. Rather, it means that the container won’t melt when heated. Whether or not it’s safe to heat your food in plastic at all is a subject of much debate. Some experts — such as Frederick Vom Saal, PhD, professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri, who’s been studying plastic for more than a decade — say there’s no such thing as a safe microwaveable plastic. The heat from microwaves and dishwashers can degrade the chemical structure of plastic, causing it to leak into your food. At a Mount Sinai School of Medicine symposium on chemicals and cancer, when doctors were asked how they reduce their own risk, the most common response was to avoid putting all plastic in the dishwasher or microwave. When Good Housekeeping did their own testing of frozen entrees, plastic wrap and plastic food containers, they found that most food showed no detectable amounts of BPA or phthalates — the two chemicals that have been most linked to reproductive health problems. Of 31 products tested, four leached BPA or phthalates into the food they contained. The analysis did not examine other types of chemicals. According to the Environmental Working Group, while “most of the chemicals making the culinary crossing are considered ‘safe,’ that’s generally not because they’ve been proved safe, but rather they haven’t been proved to be unsafe.” Bottom line: If you’re wary about chemicals from plastic, it’s okay to store food in BPA-free containers, as well as those marked 1, 2, 4 and 5. But strongly consider using glass or ceramic containers for reheating, or for hot food and liquids. And make sure plastic wrap doesn’t come in contact with your food.