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The Liver Disease Guide for Microwaving With Plastic

In our modern society of quick food preparation, the microwave reigns within many households. Food that historically took hours to prepare can now take nearly minutes in a microwave, allowing for a greater range of nutritional consumption for a person on-the-go. However, a great deal of mystery surrounds its safety. Since the device’s entrance into the market, qualms have circulated about the potential harm of microwaving food in plastic containers or wrapping. Read on to discover four tips for microwaving safely with containers or wraps – tips that will help minimize any additional toxin load on your liver.

Individuals with liver disease have to be more careful than others of everything ingested. Food is broken down into smaller components, absorbed into the bloodstream and processed by the liver. A person living with liver disease has a decreased capability of processing and filtering out toxic constituents in the blood. The belief that microwaves transform all plastic into toxins capable of leaching into food is at the root of the debate on microwaving safely with plastic.

The Plastic Fear
Because the ingestion of unwanted chemicals puts an extra burden on the liver, allowing harmful chemicals to contact food is cause for concern. Stories about the dangers of chemicals leaching from plastic containers or wraps into microwaved food fuels a popular worry among those with liver concerns. Advocates claim that microwaving plastic causes them to release cancer-causing substances called dioxins.

The source of this warning can be traced to Edward Fujimoto, manager of the Castle Center for Wellness and Lifestyle Medicine in Hawaii. Fujimoto, a doctor of public health, subscribes to a better-safe-than-sorry philosophy regarding using plastic containers in the microwave oven. Fujimoto claims that plastic containers – including those labeled “microwave safe” – contain cancer-causing dioxins and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which leach out into food. If this were true, using plastics in the microwave by a person with liver disease would be contrary to efforts of reducing the liver’s toxic load.

The Truth
Although Fujimoto’s claims have been repeatedly debunked by a variety of official sources, the fear of microwaving all plastic containers and wraps has survived. Dr. Ed Machuga, Consumer Safety Officer at the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Food Safety and Nutrition responded to Fujimoto’s claims: “We have no evidence that plastic containers can produce dioxins when heated in a microwave oven. In fact, most, if not all, plastics containers would not even have the correct chemical composition to form dioxins.”

Machuga says that consumers should be sure to use plastics for their intended purpose and in accordance with directions. If you don’t find instructions for microwave use, you should use a different plate or container that is clearly labeled microwave-safe. Such containers are made to withstand high temperatures. According to the American Plastics Council, carryout containers from restaurants and margarine tubs should not be used in the microwave. Inappropriate containers may melt or warp, which increases the likelihood of chemical leaching. Also advised is to discard containers that hold prepared microwavable meals after you use them because they are meant for one-time use.

Plastic Facts
When various plastics become hot, their molecules become more mobile. The most obvious demonstration of this mobility is when a plastic actually melts. But even before it melts, a plastic can begin to lose molecules to objects that are touching it. When it comes to cooking, the plastics used are non-toxic, so that even eating pieces of those plastic typically do not cause any trouble.

Some plastics are mixed with additives called plasticizers to keep them softer than they would be if they were pure. These plasticizers have a tendency to migrate out of the plastics. Heating food in plastic containing a plasticizer can drive the plasticizer out of the plastic and into the food. This is why people with liver disease should only microwave food in plastics designated for that use.

Diethylhexyl adipate (DEHA) is a plasticizer that has been used in the manufacturing of plastic wrap. Although the levels of DEHA that might be consumed as a result of plastic film use are well below toxic levels, even a small exposure may affect someone with liver disease adversely. While there are plastic wraps made without DEHA, the consumer needs to do a little research to discover this. Unfortunately, the ingredients used to make plastics are rarely listed on the packaging. For example, going to the website for Saran Wrap™ and searching their Frequently Asked Questions section reveals that the company does not use DEHA or other potentially harmful plasticizers.

Despite their claim for relative safety, virtually all plastics leach trace amounts of chemicals. While exposure to plastics is unavoidable and carries little to no eminent danger, people with liver disease can prolong their health by being aware of reducing contact with chemicals. In addition to heating plastics in the microwave, washing containers in detergent contributes to plastic’s more rapid breakdown. Containers labeled microwave-safe pose no threat for a few uses, but will break down over time with repeated heating and washing.

Safety Tips: Microwaving With Plastic
Due to confusion over its safety, several guidelines for heating food in microwave ovens have been developed in recent years. The following tips for microwaving with containers or wraps will minimize any additional toxin load on the liver:

1.    Read the Package – Only use cookware that is specially manufactured for use in the microwave oven. Glass, ceramic containers and all plastics should be labeled for microwave oven use. Plastic storage containers such as margarine tubs, take-out containers, whipped topping bowls and other one-time use containers should not be used in microwave ovens. These containers can warp or melt, possibly causing harmful chemicals to migrate into the food.

2.    Wrap Placement – Microwave-safe plastic wrap should be placed loosely over food so that steam can escape, and should not directly touch food. Some plastic wraps have labels indicating that there should be a one-inch or greater space between the plastic and the food during microwave heating.

3.    Do Your Homework – If you are unsure if your plastic container or wrap contains harmful plasticizers, go the company’s website or contact the manufacturer directly to determine its ingredients.

4.    Part With Old Plastics – Although generally safe for prolonged use, the inevitability of plastic breakdown likely affects those with liver disease more than others. Because repeated reheating and washing eventually breaks down plastics, periodically clear your cupboard of plastic containers.

The microwave truly is a revolutionary component of the modern kitchen. In just a fraction of time than previously required, all kinds of nutritional meals can be created in the microwave. By following the tips above, anyone can confidently serve safe foods out of his/her microwave oven. However, people with compromised liver function are wise to double check on food preparation safety. If you choose to avoid microwaving with plastics labeled microwave-safe, realize that, you are doing this more for your own peace of mind than for any scientifically valid reason. Meanwhile, as long as you are cooking with microwave-safe items, are following the manufacturer’s recommendations and don’t use old, worn out containers, clear your conscience about fast-cooking guilt. Living healthfully with liver disease means being aware of minimizing toxin exposure – but it doesn’t mean you need to abandon your microwave., Perilous Plastic?, Nadia Mangialetti, PhD, American Council on Science and Health, 2007., Plastics and the Microwave, Michelle Meadows, US Food and Drug Administration, 2007., Microwave Ovens, Louis A. Bloomfield, 2007., Microwaving Foods and Dioxin Formation, Christina Stark, MS, RD, CDN, Cornell University, 2007., Food Containers and Packaging, American Chemistry Council, Inc., 2007., Toxins: Were Do They Come From and How Dangerous Are They Really?, Mike Doughty, 2007., Frequently Asked Questions, S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc., 2007., Plastics News Alert, Bisnar and Chase, LLP, 2007.

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About the Author

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)®

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM is a long time advocate of integrating perspectives on health. With a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and a Master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches Institute, Nicole has been a licensed acupuncturist since 2000. She has gathered acupuncture licenses in the states of California and New York, is a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, has earned diplomat status with the National Commission of Chinese and Oriental Medicine in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and is a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. In addition to her acupuncture practice that focuses on stress and pain relief, digestion, immunity and oncology, Nicole contributes to the integration of healthcare by writing articles for professional massage therapists and people living with liver disease.

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