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Is microwaving in plastic safe? Tips to reduce your risk

A new study linking certain chemicals in plastics to a higher risk of diabetes and high blood pressure has experts offering tips to reduce risk when using plastic containers in the microwave.
/ Source: TODAY

Before you pop that plastic container into the microwave, you might want to take a look at the fine print.

A study linking certain chemicals in plastics to a higher risk of diabetes and high blood pressure has experts offering several tips to reduce risk when putting plastics in the microwave or dish washer.

In a study published in the medical journal Hypertension, conducted by NYU Langone Medical Center, two chemical substitutes that are used in place of a chemical known as DEHP to strengthen plastic wrap, soap, cosmetics and processed food containers have correlated with a rise in the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes in children. The two substitute compounds are known as phthalates, a class of chemical, and the takeaway from the study is to be aware of what plastics make up that container you are putting in the microwave or dishwasher.

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"The FDA does regulate the plastics that come in contact with food, and the most important take-home message is to read the label on the package or the container,'' Dr. Natalie Azar, NBC News medical correspondent, told TODAY.

"If it says, 'microwave safe,' it is microwave safe," she elaborated. "If it contains the recycling numbers three, six and seven, on the other hand, then you know that those products were actually made with those chemicals of concern."

"Those are the things that you might not want to microwave, (and) you might not want to put them in the dishwasher because it gets so hot. You want to hand wash it."

The researchers analyzed data from a national health and nutrition examination survey of 356 children, ages 12 to 19, taken between 2008 and 2012 for urinary levels of the two chemical compounds. Azar stressed that there is no direct link between heating the plastics and medical issues in children.

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"It was definitely not a study that was meant or designed to look specifically at these plastics and their health effects on children,'' she said. "That's very important to get out from the beginning. But they found a correlation or an association between some of these compounds and a higher risk of hypertension in these kids. Observational only. It was absolutely not a cause-and-effect finding."

A Columbia University study from last year linked prenatal exposure to phthalates to lower IQ.

"Phthalates are among the most thoroughly studied family of chemicals and government regulatory bodies support the safety of phthalates for consumer uses,'' the American Chemical Council said in a statement to TODAY. "Phthalates are highly unlikely to be used in microwaveable plastics, however any material that is intended for food contact is reviewed and approved as safe by the FDA."

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Glass containers are another option for those with concerns, and Azar said checking the surface of a plastic container is also important before microwaving it.

"Once they're scratched they're at a higher risk of leaching out those chemicals,'' she said. "It doesn't mean you should suddenly stop microwaving your Tupperware. Those things are regulated enough, we believe, to consider them safe enough for use."

This story was originally published in July 2015. Follow writer Scott Stump on Twitter and Google+.