Health Check: Preschool Plastic Dilemma

By Larissa Phillips

Feeding Your FamilyI’m too much of a traditionalist in the kitchen to be a fan of the microwave, but I can’t say the same for the preschool my daughter went to. Like it or not, her dish of pasta or rice went into the microwave every day. With concerns about plastics on the rise, many parents have asked preschool teachers to stop putting plastic into the microwave – only to be rebuffed!

According to the FDA, that’s OK; microwave-safe plastics, they say, are indeed safe in the microwave.

When plastics are heated, substances used to make the plastic may indeed leach into the food – especially when fat is present in the food. But in response, the FDA tests plastics intended for use in the microwave, estimating how the container will be used, how hot it will get, and how many times it will be used. Using these estimates as a guide, the FDA measures the amount of chemicals that leach into the food. It must be 100-1,000 times less than the amount that has affected the health of lab animals exposed to the chemicals over the course of a lifetime. If the container passes this test, it’s deemed safe for microwave use.

But the tests don’t take into account that many containers are used for different purposes than they were intended. If you’re the type to reuse that take-out container, or make do with that empty margarine container, you might want to reconsider. If they weren’t intended to be microwaved, heated or reused, they may not have passed FDA tests.

To be extra safe, switch to glass. For those microwaved preschool lunches? Check your lunch containers and be sure they’re intended for the microwave. If they don’t explicitly say so, they belong in the recycle bin – not your child’s lunchbox.

Larissa Phillips is a cooking instructor and food writer for Email her at Check out Larissa’s blog Mothership Meals & Satellite Saucers and discover how to get through dinner without having a breakdown!

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The Mothership Method - Blog by Larissa PhillipsFeeding Your Family feature articles for September 2008