Plastic and paper

Plastic melts and paper burns, so you obviously can't use plastic or paper containers in a stove with an open flame (gas) or heat source (electric). But can you use them in the microwave? You bet! As long as you pick a proper plastic.

When plastic dishes or plastic wrap are heated in a microwave oven, they may emit potentially carcinogenic compounds that can migrate into your food. To reduce your exposure to these compounds, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) says you need to choose only plastic containers labeled "for microwave oven use." Thin plastic storage bags, margarine tubs, and whipped topping bowls are convenient but way, way off-limits. The American Plastic Council also offers three common-sense tips for using the right kind of plastics in the microwave:

1 Follow the directions on the plastic container or package. If it doesn't say "microwaveable," it isn't. For example, Styrofoam and other take-out food carriers rarely are microwaveable, so put the food you've ordered into a different container before reheating it.

1 Trays for microwave meals are meant to be used only once; after you heat the food, toss the tray.

1 When covering food to prevent splatters, use microwave-safe plastic wraps only.

Because the Food and Drug Administration requires microwave-safe plastics to meet strict safety standards, repeated studies show no ill effects from their minimal leakage. On the other hand, if even very small exposure makes you edgy, you can switch to glass or ceramic dishes that are made specifically to be used in microwave ovens. Splatter-proof the dish with wax paper, parchment paper, or white paper towels labeled safe for microwave use.

For more about plastics in the microwave, visit the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) Web site at or the American Plastics Council at (select Plastics & Food Storage Safety and then click on the link to the "Plastics: Revolutionizing American Mealtime" document — or simply type "microwave" in the Search box and follow the prompts).

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