Is It Safe to Microwave Plastic? Answering Common Safety Questions About Plastics Food Packaging - ChemicalSafetyFacts.org
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Updated June 22, 2021

Heating up last night’s leftovers in a plastic container? It’s easy to check to see whether a plastic container or wrap is safe to use in the microwave. In fact, many plastic containers are designed specifically to withstand high microwave temperatures.

To see if a plastic container or wrap is microwave-safe, check the label:“microwave safe plastic symbol”

  • Products labeled “Microwave Safe” can be used in a microwave.
  • Products labeled with an imprinted microwave symbol can be used in the microwave. This symbol is mostly used on reusable plastic storage containers. Learn more about the different types of plastic food packaging and symbols.
  • Other plastic containers, packages or wraps may include instructions for proper microwave use on their labels.

All plastic food packaging materials – whether or not it’s microwave-safe – must meet stringent U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) safety standards. FDA undertakes a safety review for all new food-contact materials before permitting them on the market.

Some types of plastics, such as plastics used in butter tubs and deli containers, are designed for cold food storage, not for reheating. If the container in question is not labeled for microwave use, put your food in a container that is before heating it in the microwave.

Answering common questions about food packaging:

Can you microwave plastic?

To know if a plastic container or plastic wrap is microwave safe, you should look on the packaging material for a “Microwave Safe” label. Plastic products with an imprinted microwave symbol can be used in the microwave. This symbol is mostly used on reusable plastic storage containers.

Can you microwave StyrofoamTM?

The term StyrofoamTM refers to an extruded polystyrene material developed by Dow; the term is often misused when referencing a type of expanded polystyrene foam that is commonly used to make disposable take-out containers, dinnerware, and packaging materials. Expanded polystyrene products that have the microwave-safe label have been tested for safety in the microwave, and should be safe for use.

However, you should avoid putting polystyrene containers in the microwave altogether if you are not sure, and cannot locate a microwave-safe label on the packaging.

How can we really know food packaging is safe?

Food packaging materials are strictly regulated by FDA, using rigorous scientific standards. The agency regulates the safety of substances added to food, as well as how most food is processed, packaged, and labeled in the United States.

Can chemicals leach or migrate into food from food packaging?

All food packaging materials– whether glass, aluminum, paper or plastic – may contain substances that can “migrate” in very miniscule amounts to foods or beverages. The FDA reviews the safety of packaging components that can reasonably be expected to migrate into a food, even in tiny amounts, using comprehensive evaluations that focus on a number of factors, including cumulative exposure to food contact substances, the type of packaging used and the safe levels of exposure to the material.

How does FDA regulate food packaging safety?

FDA has an entire office—the Division of Food Contact Notifications—employing chemists, toxicologists, and other scientific staff with extensive knowledge and training that evaluate the safety and environmental impact of chemicals used to produce packaging.

The evaluation process that FDA undertakes includes close review of studies and tests that address the impact of food contact substances on both animals and people, as well as all studies and tests related to identity, stability, purity, potency, performance and usefulness.

Is BPA safe to use in food packaging?

Based on government research, along with results from other studies, the FDA has evaluated the safety of BPA used in food packaging and has continually answered the question: “Is BPA safe?” with a clear answer – “Yes.”

In the fall of 2014, FDA experts specializing in toxicology, analytical chemistry, endocrinology and epidemiology completed a four-year review of more than 300 scientific studies, which confirmed BPA’s safety in typical use.

More recently, a multipronged U.S. government research program reported findings from the CLARITY Core Study, designed to assess the potential health effects of long-term exposure to BPA, which confirmed that consumer exposure to BPA is very low and there is no risk of health effects from BPA at typical human exposure levels, even if people are exposed to BPA throughout their lives.

Are phthalates safe to use in food packaging?

Phthalates are primarily used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC), or vinyl, found in some products like resilient flooring and flexible coatings for protecting wires like for laptops and phone chargers. Phthalate plasticizers are typically not used in plastic food packaging.

Phthalates have been thoroughly studied and reviewed by a number of government scientific agencies and regulatory bodies worldwide, and numerous agencies have concluded that phthalates used in commercial products do not pose a risk to human health at typical exposure levels.

Are polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) safe to use in food packaging?

Some PFAS are FDA-approved for use in food contact applications. FDA-approved uses of PFAS include grease-resistant food packaging and paper. The PFC compounds that are currently allowed for use in food packaging are supported by a robust body of data demonstrating that these materials are safe for their intended use. These data show PFHxA does not exhibit carcinogenicity, mutagenicity, or genotoxicity. PFHxA is not an endocrine disruptor. PFHxA also does not exhibit adverse effects on reproduction, and developmental effects are mixed and occur at higher doses than other endpoints.

Interested in learning more about food safety and chemistry? Here are some other resources that may be of interest:

Sweet Colors:  Safety Information about Food Coloring and Dyes

Types of Plastic Food Packaging and Safety: A Close-Up Look

Chemistry’s Role in Your Holiday Celebrations

FDA’s Division of Food Contact Substances