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August 13, 2011

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Microwave plastic warning

CONSUMERS are being advised to look for a small triangle logo with a number under the plastic container when buying food from stores. The number identifies the materials and whether it is safe to use the container in a microwave oven.

Only containers labeled with 5 in the triangle can be put into a microwave oven. Number 5 means the container is made of polypropylene, or PP, while other numbers indicate other materials.

An investigation by Shanghai Daily yesterday found many containers at local convenience stores are marked with other numbers, while some containers have no triangle at all.

However staff at convenience stores claimed all plastic containers are safe for microwave oven heating and had no idea about the meaning of the numbers.

"All containers can be heated by microwave oven," said a staffer at an outlet of FamilyMart on Yishan Road.

Some containers at the store were marked with number 7, meaning all other resins and multi-materials not otherwise defined, and some had no marks on the containers or labels.

Officials from the Shanghai Food and Drug Administration said the nation has regulations on plastic containers. But they are not compulsory.

A national technical guidance on plastic containers issued in 2009 didn't include the research on how plastics can leak chemicals after being heated by microwave ovens.

Yu Yuqin, a senior engineer at the Shanghai Food Industry Institute, explained that plastics without the number 5, or PP, can leak chemicals that are cancerous to people if they are heated in a microwave. In some cases, they should not be packed with food at all.

"Those plastic containers without any identification on the bottom are the most dangerous, since they could be made of questionable materials," Yu said. "Those containers with extremely thin plastic and broken easily could be made of waste plastic or some industrial materials that can't be used to take food."

Officials from the Shanghai Industrial and Commercial Administrative Bureau said yesterday that they will soon carry out an investigation on plastic containers in the local market.


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