Dioxin exposure over extended periods from microwaving meat packaging

Asked April 5, 2018, 3:46 PM EDT

What are the odds of developing cancer from this process over a 20 year length of exposure? I did not know this was toxic and wonder what is my risk factor? How serious are my cancer concerns?

Cuyahoga County Ohio

1 Response

Per Abby Snyder: Can only suggest that you consult a physician. I think giving medical advice is largely outside of our purview. For food handling advice- follow packaging instructions. To that point, reminder that some packaging is meant to be microwaved

Here is a link from the USDA:

https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/appliances-and-thermometers/cooking-safely-in-the-microwave/cooking-safely-in-the-microwave-oven

Below is also USDA guidance that may pose useful -

Can chemicals from packaging migrate into food?

Yes, small amounts of chemicals from packaging materials can migrate into foods. It is for this reason that each packaging material must be regulated for a specific use by the FDA. However, sometimes consumers misuse packaging materials in ways not intended or anticipated when the material was regulated for food use.

For example, cold food storage containers—such as cottage cheese cartons and margarine tubs—used for refrigerator or freezer storage of foods are intended for those uses only. They have not been tested or approved for any other use, including cooking. Do not use these types of containers for heating food. They are not heat stable and chemicals from the plastic may migrate into the food during heating.

Should foods be microwaved in packaging materials?

Microwave food in packaging materials only if the package directs, and then use only one time. Materials suitable for microwaving include oven bags, wax paper and plastic wrap. Do not let the plastic wrap touch the food, and do not reuse the wrap.

Foam insulated trays and plastic wraps on fresh meats in grocery stores are not intended by the manufacturer to be heated and may melt when in contact with hot foods, allowing chemical migration into the food. In addition, chemical migration from packaging material to a food does not necessarily require direct contact. Excessive heat applied to a closed container may drive off chemical gases from the container that can contaminate the enclosed food.

These types of plastic products should not be used in a microwave oven because they are subjected to heat when thawing or reheating. To avoid a chemical migration problem, remove meats from their packaging.

If packaging is accidentally cooked in a conventional oven, is the food safe to eat?

Plastic packaging materials should not be used at all in conventional ovens. They may catch on fire or melt, causing chemical migration into foods. Sometimes these materials are inadvertently cooked with a product. For example, giblets may be accidentally cooked inside the turkey in their packaging or a beef roast may be cooked with the absorbent pad from the fresh meat packaging underneath.

The giblet bag and the absorbent pad are clearly not intended to be cooked, however if this happens and the packaging materials remain unaltered (that is, do not melt or come apart) the cooked meat will not pose an imminent health hazard. If the packaging materials have melted or changed shape in some other way do not use the product.