These days, most of us use our microwaves to reheat food. Although it's not essential, it is best to cover the food with something when you microwave it, but what should that be? Should it be a microwave-safe lid, a piece of paper kitchen towel, a plate, or a sheet of plastic food wrap?
The two main reasons for covering food when you reheat it in the microwave are to stop the food from drying out. And of course, to prevent any potential splatter.
Not knowing whether plastic food wrap was safe to use in the microwave, I tended to go for the paper kitchen towel option, which I sometimes dampen.
To check out the safe options, I did a little online sleuthing, and I thought it might prove beneficial to share the results with you.
Saran plastic food Wrap - the origin
The term "plastic wrap" is something we use to describe lots of different materials. For example, in industry, plastic wrap often refers to an industrial material used to secure items onto pallets or for "food-grade" plastic film.
The stuff we use at home for wrapping our food is often referred to as cling film, plastic food wrap, or saran wrap. These terms cover the type of thin plastic film that we use to protect items of food in containers, to keep them fresh.
This film is bought from local grocery stores in a roll which is housed within a cardboard box that incorporates a cutting-edge to enable you to cut off the length of wrap you wish to use.
Origin-wise, this type of plastic wrap was first discovered in 1933 when Ralph Wiley, a worker employed by Dow chemicals, was having problems cleaning beakers used to develop dry-cleaning products.
It was developed initially not as a film but as a spray to protect military aircraft from the effect of sea salt. Automobile manufacturers also used it to protect car seats.
Shortly after, this material, Polyvinylidene Chloride or PVdC, was then developed into Saran plastic wrap by Dow chemicals in 1949. Since then, other PVC variants are more popularly used.
The most recent innovation is to use Low-Density Polyethylene, or LDPE for short, as it has been proven to be safer as far as the human body is concerned, which is why, in 2004, the Saran brand of plastic film was switched over to LDPE.
The only slight difficulty with LDPE plastic films is that they do not provide the same amount of cling-ability that PVC film does.
Is it Microwave-safe?
Although many people use plastic wrap to cover foods they are microwaving, there are still technical questions that you should consider because plastics, in general, can be harmful to both the environment and people's health.
According to the USDA, you can safely use plastic wrap in your microwave.
However, they do go on to comment that the plastic film you use should not be allowed to touch the food itself.
For the sake of clarity, if you are covering food in a dish or container with plastic film, you need to ensure that there is an air gap between the upper surface of the food and the plastic wrap itself.
If necessary, put the food into a deeper bowl, or use a shallow, wider bowl for heating the foodstuffs that you might be intending to serve on a dinner plate.
As long as the film is stretched tautly across the top of the container or dish, and doesn't touch the food, microwaving isn't a problem.
No scientific evidence of plastic wrap being carcinogen all
There has been a considerable amount of conjecture that microwaving plastic film could cause cancer. However, according to Cancer Research UK, there is no scientific evidence to support these rumors.
But it's not all plain sailing. If you accidentally melt the plastic wrap in your microwave and it comes into contact with the food, it could create health problems.
So, if you're using Saran plastic film, you need to keep an eye on the temperature your microwave is generating.
According to the manufacturers, the melting point of Saran wrap is between 220°F and 250°F. Keep the temperature well below this range, and you should be okay.
A common misunderstanding about microwaving plastic wrap
Many people still think that it is dangerous to microwave food when it is covered with plastic wrap. They believe that harmful chemicals may leach out of the plastic and contaminate the food making it toxic.
Other people give no credence to this theory and carry on microwaving plastic film-covered food without any further thought. Indeed, there must be a definitive answer.
Why must plastic wrap not touch food in the microwave?
We already know, as mentioned above, that the USDA advises that plastic wrap or film should not be allowed to touch food. A clear air gap between the food and the film is recommended.
Many people go wrong in their haste to cover food on a flat plate with plastic wrap and then put it in the microwave for reheating.
It's fast, and they believe it convenient. Unfortunately, they are running the risk of damaging their health.
You can minimize the danger by purchasing plastic food wrap that is labeled microwave-safe.
But even so, you should still follow the recommended guidelines and keep that all-important air gap between the plastic and the food.
Recommendations for how long you can microwave plastic film
Ideally, you should not allow the food or plastic temperature to reach more than 150°F, although the film's maximum temperature range is between 220°F and 250°F.
If you keep your microwave at a lower power setting, plastic film-covered food can be microwaved for as long as 20 minutes, bearing in mind there should always be that all-important air gap.
If you're going to be microwaving at a higher power level, don't expose the plastic for more than two minutes maximum.
What to consider before choosing a plastic wrap for the microwave?
To finish off, let's now summarise a few points to help you ensure your maximum health safety when microwaving with plastic food wrap.
Only use a product marked microwave-safe - When out shopping for your next purchase of Saran wrap, you need to be aware that there are many products out there that might not be labeled "microwave safe."
These should be ignored. Only ever purchase and use the appropriately labeled product.
1 Maintain the air gap
When covering food, you will microwave with Saran wrap; always ensure to use a dish or container deep enough to allow an air gap between the food and the plastic wrap. My recommendation is an air gap of approximately 1 inch.
2 Provide an air vent
Saran plastic film is airproof. Without allowing any heated air to escape, the temperature beneath the film will become increasingly hot, running the risk of the plastic wrap melting.
To prevent this, punch some small vent holes into the stretched film with the point of a sharp knife.
3 Avoid covering oily foods with Saran wrap
It is not good to cover oily foods with Saran wrap. Foods containing any excess oil tend to become a lot hotter when microwaved - hot enough to melt any plastic wrapping.
4 Don't microwave for longer than five minutes at a time
It's not a good idea to microwave foods for longer than five minutes. My personal recommendation is a maximum of two minutes. If you intend to microwave food for longer than this, I suggest turning down the power level of your microwave.
When to avoid plastic food saran?
Plastic food wrap is not meant for eating. If there is any chance that it has somehow got into the food, you should not eat it. It could be poisonous and damage your health.
You should always aim to use a plastic food wrap that is made from LDPE and labeled "microwave-safe." Check to ensure that it is free of BPA (as is Saran wrap).
The initials BPA stand for Bisphenol A, which has been used to manufacture certain types of Polycarbonate and Resin since the 1960s.
These plastics are often used in food and beverage containers.
BPA can have a detrimental effect on the brain and the prostate gland of fetuses and small children. It can also affect a child's behavior.
Besides, recent research has suggested a possible link between this chemical product and hypertension.
Microwave-safe plastic food wrap brands
I've talked about Saran plastic food wrap because it is the market leader, but other microwave-safe brands are okay to use. They include:
- AEP Zipsafe Sealwrap
- Bee's Reusable Wrap
- Glad Press'n'Seal
- Kirkland's Stretch-Tite Plastic Film
Be a little careful of where you buy your plastic food wrap. Some of the great offers you see online may not be for microwave-safe products and could contain toxic chemicals like BPA.
There is far less risk of buying a dodgy product if you shop in a regular bricks-and-mortar supermarket as they have to adhere to strict government standards.
Reheating food in the microwave is fast and hugely convenient and something we all tend to do from time to time.
If you buy appropriately labeled "microwave-safe" plastic film and follow the guidelines I have outlined above, you will have nothing about which to worry about.