Most plastics safe for use in microwave
What is the harm from microwaving food in just about any plastic container? It used to be that stores advertised certain containers as microwavable, but no one does now.
Answer: Many containers are labeled "microwave safe."
The best advice is to check first to see if the container or wrap is marked for microwave use; if not, choose one that is. If the container can warp or melt from microwaving, don't use it.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says while it is true that substances in plastics can leach into food, "the agency has assessed migration levels of substances added to regulated plastics and has found the levels to be well within the margin of safety based on information available to the agency. The FDA will revisit its safety evaluation if new scientific information raises concerns." (See www.fda.gov/fdac/features/2002/602_plastic.html).
In that article, the FDA says a chemical called diethylhexyl adipate, used to make some plastics flexible, may be released when certain foods, especially fatty ones such as meat and cheese, are wrapped in plastic. But it says "the levels of the plasticizer that might be consumed as a result of plastic film use are well below the levels showing no toxic effect in animal studies."
It also says there is no evidence that plastics contain dioxin, a carcinogen (cancer-causing agent).
We checked with a spokeswoman in the FDA's San Francisco office, who told us the department's position on plastics and microwaving has not changed.
However, the federal government does have tips on when it might be better not to use plastic containers or wraps in microwave ovens. More on that later.
We found reference to local station KHON-TV on a Web site -- www.snopes.com/toxins/plastic.htm -- that examined warnings circulating on the Internet that microwaving foods in plastic containers would release cancer-causing agents into the food. The conclusion was "false."
Someone began circulating a summation of an interview the station aired in 2002, featuring Edward Fujimoto, identified as director of what was then called the Center for Health Promotion (now the Wellness and Lifestyle Medicine Department) at Castle Medical Center.
The Internet posting said Fujimoto warned viewers not to use plastic containers to heat foods in microwave ovens, especially if the foods contain fats, because the combination would release dioxins into the food, thus putting the consumer at risk of cancer. He advised using glass, ceramic or other non-plastic containers instead.
Fujimoto, who said he was a manager of the Health Promotion Center, left Castle about four years ago.
But the hospital still gets calls almost monthly from people "worldwide" asking for him, said hospital spokesman David Earles.
Castle has taken no official stance on Fujimoto's statements, he said. Earles also said no one at the hospital even has a tape of the broadcast and at the time did not consider Fujimoto's statements controversial or alarmist.
Fujimoto, now a professor in the School of Public Health at Loma Linda University in California, specializing in lifestyle medicine, also said he gets calls frequently from individuals and the news media asking about his comments.
"Every time it goes around (on the Internet), it picks up additional baggage and the baggage might not be entirely correct," he said.
Fujimoto said he also is amazed at the attention his statements continue to get, noting that he was never on "any bandwagon" and that the subject was never his main interest.
In a telephone interview, he said his "initial talk (on the TV show) had to do with dioxin, but that was only the lead-in to the whole thing."
When asked about the FDA's statement that plastics don't contain dioxins, he said, "Yes, that's true, right now they don't."
His main contention is that although plastic products have been improved to the point where "some plastics" may not contain harmful chemicals, "the whole problem is that the consumer would never know which one is which, even if it says 'microwave safe.' It might be 'microwave safe' for the container and not for the food."
He acknowledged that "you are talking about billionths and trillionths of a gram" of any possible harmful chemical that might leach into the food. But that, combined with exposure to "a lot of chemicals out there," not only in plastics but in thousands of other products, as well, is what concerns him.
So his philosophy is better be safe than sorry.
"The safe thing to do is not heat food in plastic containers in the microwave or anything like that," Fujimoto said.
That all said, the federal government has a lot of information on how to safely use microwave ovens on its Web site www.FoodSafety.gov, maintained jointly by such agencies as the FDA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental l Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The FDA spokeswoman pointed us specifically to www.foodsafety.gov/~fsg/fs-mwave.html.
Among the tips:
» Remove food from packaging before defrosting. Don't use foam trays and plastic wraps because they may melt or warp at high temperatures, which may release harmful chemicals into food.
» Only use cookware made for use in the microwave oven. Glass, ceramic containers and all plastics should be labeled for microwave oven use.
» Don't use margarine tubs, take-out containers, whipped-topping bowls and other one-time use containers in microwave ovens, because they can warp or melt and possibly release harmful chemicals into the food.
» You can use microwave plastic wraps, wax paper, cooking bags, parchment paper and white microwave-safe paper towels, but don't let plastic wraps touch foods during microwaving.
» Don't use thin plastic storage bags, brown paper or plastic grocery bags, newspapers or aluminum foil in the microwave oven.
Pauoa resident Tadao Uetake says he'd like to give his side of the story about why he walks on the street, even when there are sidewalks. He was responding to the Jan. 19 Kokua Line
, in which someone asked if there was any law against people walking on the streets.
Basically, if there are sidewalks, you're not supposed to walk on the street.
But, Uetake explained, "I'm legally blind. ... Walking on the sidewalk is more dangerous" for him because he can't see slopes or unevenness in the pathway. He also said it's difficult to maneuver up and down the curbs at intersections.
"It's easier for me to walk on the road because it's level," he said.
He added that he doesn't walk in heavy traffic and always walks in his neighborhood facing oncoming traffic so he can get out of the way when a vehicle is approaching.
Got a question or complaint?
Call 529-4773, fax 529-4750, or write to Kokua Line, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu 96813. As many as possible will be answered. E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
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