The microwave oven certainly makes home food preparation easier, but if used incorrectly, it can also pose a serious health risk. The culprit? The container in which you choose to heat your food.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, plastics labeled “microwave-safe” are just that. But any other plastic, including melamine and cling wrap, contains chemicals that will seep into your food when heated. Anything containing foam or metal, such as aluminum foil, should also never go in the microwave.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, glass, including Pyrex, is perfectly safe to use in the microwave. The same is true of ceramics (as long as they do not contain lead or other metal) and silicone. Anything paper — e.g., plates, towels and napkins — does not pose a risk, and wax or parchment papers are also viable alternatives.
However, do not use brown paper bags in the microwave! Per the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “Intense heat may cause a bag to ignite, causing a fire in the oven and possibly contaminating the [food]. The ink, glue and recycled materials in paper bags may emit toxic fumes when they are exposed to heat.”
As with most things in life, it largely boils down to common sense and following directions. Don’t assume you know better than a manufacturer or that the rules can be skirted if you’re only heating something for a short time. The potential effects on your health aren’t worth the time saved.