Do you wash disposable containers or bottles and reuse them? Do you drink hot coffee or tea from a disposable plastic cup? Have you placed a takeaway container into the microwave and seen it melt?
If the answer to any of these is ‘yes', think again: you could be harming yourself.
Authorities step up controls over food packaging materials, but concerns remain over misuse of plastics at home
* By Sharmila Dhal, Senior Reporter
While Dubai Municipality is preparing to launch a major initiative to create awareness in this regard, XPRESS has learnt that the authorities have also stepped up controls over food contact materials that are imported, manufactured or exported from the emirate to ensure greater health and safety of consumers.
"Most disposables are not designed for multiple use in terms of what they store or carry," said Bobby Krishna, Food Safety Officer at Dubai Municipality. "Not all are designed to withstand heat or chemical wash."
The dangers of misuse could range from burning and break-down to chemical migration, which in extreme cases can also release cancer-causing materials (see box).
While Krishna said such extreme cases are still being debated, the extent of harm depends on the type of chemicals contained in the misused food packaging material, the contact time of the food, the temperature it is subjected to and the amount of food that is consumed from it.
Providing tips to differentiate between common plastics, Nidal Haddad, CEO of Al Bayader International, a local plastic manufacturer, said people should be aware that plastics comprise different materials like polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS) etc, not all of which are suitable for all purposes.
He said most take-out containers, water bottles and plastic tubs or jars that carry yogurt, cream, cheese etc are not microwave-safe. Even microwavable take-out dinner trays are generally designed for one-time use.
The thumb rule is never to use a plastic container in a microwave unless it is specified as microwave-safe, he said, noting that one of the most common mistakes people make is to use PET take-out containers and other one-time use containers to cook or reheat food in the microwave.