The covid-19 pandemic has turned the life we knew until now. The great problems that brought the world authorities (and us) -the environmental Protection, migratory crises, North Korean military provocations or economic inequalities – have taken a back seat with the irruption of the SARS-CoV-2, the enemy that has managed to unite more than 2,000 million people with the sole objective of annihilating it.
To give an example that affects us all: what has become of the war on plastics? With the pandemic still (slowly) expanding, last year, during the United Nations Environment Assembly, held in Nairobi, it was agreed “a significant reduction in single-use plastics by 2030“However, we have immediately attended a exponential increase in the use of plastic for different purposes, from the manufacture of protective equipment for sanitary ware (PPE) to packaging and food wrappers in supermarkets, through gloves, protective screens, etc. The result: plastic waste has increased dramatically around the world, as reported by scientist Ethel Eljarrat in an article published in ‘The Conversation’.
A report from the OCU collects that 87% of microwave users use it to heat prepared food
Most plastics are made from petroleum, although there are other biodegradable manufactured from wood fibers and cotton, but with the disadvantage that they do not resist temperatures above 60ºC. Thus, it follows that most of the plastics we use in the kitchen come from petroleum and they resist both high and low temperatures well.
From the container to your food
This last piece of information is relevant when heating and preparing food in the microwave. A OCU report states that the microwave is one of the most used electrical appliances (60% of users several times a day), and 87% do it to reheat food. The question is:it is safe to use plastic in the microwave?
The biggest concern on this matter is whether some of the particles from the plastic can get into the food. The most disturbing chemicals are bisphenol (BPA) and phthalates, which increase the flexibility and durability of the plastic. They belong to what are known as endocrine disruptors (affect hormones) and have been linked to obesity, diabetes or reproductive problems.
BPA is found in polycarbonate plastics, used since 1960 to manufacture containers, cups and bottles. Bisphenol can leach into food when exposed to heat, such as when heated in the microwave, according to research published in ‘Enviromental Research and Public Health’. For this reason, many manufacturers of products related to food preservation have switched to bisphenol-free plastics.
However, different studies have confirmed that even BPA-free plastics can release molecules that act as endocrine disruptors when heated in the microwave. Therefore, unless the container is labeled as suitable for the microwave, it is advisable to transfer the food that you want to heat to another glass or earthenware.
This advice is applicable to films food protectors, and it is safer to cover them with microwave-safe paper.
Aware of this danger, many people avoid heating edibles in plastic containers. But, on many occasions, they have a false sense of security. Other situations that favor the passage of plastic particles to food and beverages are:
- Placing hot food in plastic containers
- Scrub the lids with scouring pads and abrasive detergents that they grate the plastic
- Containers that have a lot of time
- Clean containers frequently in the dishwasher
- Presence of vinegar and lemon juice in the food in the container
The best plastic
The healthiest habit is for plastic to give way to glass in our refrigerators and microwaves, although it is not an easy task overnight. Another alternative is to search containers made of PP (polypropylene) and have this distinctive printed on them.
The types of plastic for food use are:
- Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE): soda bottles and cooking oil.
- High density polyethylene (HDPE): trays of Butter and jars of protein powder
- Low density polyethylene (LDPE): plastic bags, deformable bottles and food packaging
- Polypropylene (PP): bottle caps, yogurt jars and storage of food, coffee pods and baby bottles
- Styrofoam or Styrofoam (PS): food packaging, disposable plates and cups