Plastic food containers in microwave = cancer?

Got this in the mail today:

Ok, this sounds like pure urban legend, and usually I just reply with the appropriate link to Snopes, but I checked and they list it as Undetermined…which is pretty scary, considering how skeptical they are!! So, what’s the straight dope on this?

Your very own monkey - in seconds! just add boiling water.

Hmmm, fats are capable of being heated to a higher temperature than water, I can’t see why it wouldn’t be possible for some plastics to start breaking down at these temperatures; I’d like to think that the manufacturers would anticipate and design around this though.

Consumer Reports did a test on this and their results were that the amounts were miniscule and generally considered as safe but if you were paranoid you could avoid using saran wrap and plastic containers.

One thing to keep in mind is that the evidence that dioxin is carcinogenic in humans is questionable. Read scientific artticles about the follow up of thousand of Italians exposed to large amounts of the stuff in Seveso in 1976.

This happened back in the (I think) early 90’s, sparked by concerns about how polysterene was poisoning the environment. If memory serves, Burger King was receiving favorable press because of their paper containers, and The Big M didn’t want to be seen as the Evil Planet Polluter. So the change was consumer-driven (as change often is). I never worked in a FF kitchen but I am pretty sure that microwave ovens were (and still are) fairly rare in such places.

Perhaps Dr. Fujimoto can explain why the fast food companies still sell coffee (their hottest & most likely to be microwaved of all items) in a “poisonous” styrofoam cup?

This statement is deceptive.

As you saw in the Snopes article:

Emphasis added.

Plastic wrap does not “actually drip poisonous toxins into the food”.

There are a number of folks out there trying to convince the world that microwaves are EVIL. They tend to promote things like that it causes cancer (despite the fact that it’s not ionizing radiation), causes plastics to degrade as mentioned, and causes complex molecules to break down into things whose effects on the body haven’t been adequately studied (which is true, to some degree). Heck, you can’t even boil water in a microwave because the cup will explode :eek:

However, microwaves are darn near everywhere these days and there has been no noticable increase in the death rate. If these things are so darn deadly, why aren’t people dropping like flies?

Found a good link here:

-well, let’s put the rest in another post :o
That’s a fallacious argument. Autoimmune diseases and obesity have gone up markedly in the last 30 years. No one has proven that none of the substances in microwaved plastic are not responsible for this change. The fact that proving it one way or the other would be a daunting task does not mean there is, or is not, an effect.
While food that has had plastic melted all over it may be safe as far as the FDA is concerned, they are also the agency that allowed thalidomide, and Phen-fen to be marketed. Why go out on a limb because they might be right this time ? A little caution here might save a whole lot of problems down the road.

Only if you have proof that microwaves cause an increase in the death rate. Oh, you don’t have any? I’m not surprised.

Hold on there, buckaroo. You’ve been around here long enough to know that you can’t prove a negative. It’s up to those claiming that the substances cause harm to prove that that is so. These substances have been studied extensively (although perhaps not exhaustively) and so far, no harm has been found.

Caution is a good thing. Scaremongering is a bad thing.

I have to defend the FDA on this one; FDA never allowed thalidomide to be marketed in this country, due to inadequate animal testing. Had such testing been required in Britain, there wouldn’t have been so many kids deformed there (as well as American kids born to mothers who smuggled in their pills).

Phen-fen was a perfectly reasonable-looking drug at the time, and FDA yanked it a lot sooner than some people wanted; there are still a bunch of whiners screaming that it has no side effects, and that it’s all a conspiracy against fat people.

Nor can you prove something safe by performing a limited number of tests. If you want to prove something safe, you have to test it under all possible conditions. The fact that exhaustive testing is not feasible does not eliminate the logical requirement for such testing. It merely forces us, sooner or later, to be pragmatic and say that we’ve tested six ways from sunday and found can’t find any hidden dangers. That does not constitute proof that such dangers are not there under conditions which were not tested.
engineer_comp_geek’s claim that an unmeasurable quantity, the “absence of people dying”, somehow proves the safety of microwaveable plastics is absurd. People die. No one knows what kills most of them. Usually it’s called old age, but that’s really a catchall term for a bunch of different things that we’re not really sure about. There’s no way to tell for sure exactly what did not contribute to someone’s death.
The claim that microwaved plastics “actually drips poisonous toxins into the food” is extreme because there’s very little evidence to back it up. Similarly, the claim that “plastics are safe to use in the microwave” also suffers from a lack of empirical evidence. Of course there is some evidence for the safety claim, but it is actually impossible that there will ever be enough to constitute a formal empirical proof of safety.
For an example of a similar situation, take the humble potato. People have been eating it for hundreds of years. It’s generally regarded as safe. However, if you get a little too smug about your potatoes, and carelessly toss that fancy one with the overly green skin in with the others for a fancy salad, you may suddenly find yourself sick as as a dog with solanine poisoning.
Given our relative inexperience and lack of knowledge about the combination of food, plastics, and microwaves, a little caution is warranted.

Sorry, I was thinking diethylstilbestrol (DES) and wrote thalidomide. (both teratogens from the 50’s,60’s). I’m not particularly attacking the FDA here, only pointing out that they do make mistakes, or miss things that later turn out to be important. Everyone does when faced with the unknown. While avoiding plastics in the microwave altogether is probably over-extreme, so is the thoughtless use of just any bit of plastic you have lying around as a container to heat up your supper.