Can you microwave wax paper?

Can you microwave wax paper

Nowadays, common materials for packaging and containing foodstuffs include glass, plastic, paper, ceramic and metal. However, not all of these materials are suitable for microwave cooking. Some of these materials have elements or coatings that are unstable at higher temperatures and can melt or transfer toxic substances into food during microwaving.

As such, it is important to know the microwave status of any material before dumping it in oven, this will help prevent any chemical migration into food or a possible microwave hazard.

In this article, our focus will be on wax paper and it's status in the microwave oven. We will also be providing a list of everyday materials that are safe and those that aren't safe to use in the microwave oven.

Can you microwave wax paper? Yes, wax paper is safe to use in the microwave oven provided you don’t use it to wrap 'very' fatty tissues and oily foods. Wax paper is generally transparent to microwave radiation because it's particles cannot absorb it. As a result, it doesn't heat up directly from the radiation but rather from food sources that have been heated by the radiation. Some foods like fatty tissues and oily foods can easily reach temperatures above 200°F, which can easily melt the wax coating on wax paper and possibly cause ignition of the remaining paper substrate.

Here's why wax paper is transparent to microwave radiation.

The way microwave ovens work is by emitting low energy microwave radiation that is easily absorbed by some molecules in food and converted to heat for cooking.

Microwave radiation generally makes molecules to rotate, so any molecule that is able to absorb it's energy will rotate and collide with other neighboring molecules (friction) to cause heat.

Water, fats, oils, sugar and salt are typical examples of substances in food that can absorb microwave radiation and convert it's energy to heat. They are able to do so because their molecules fulfill the necessary criteria for microwave absorption in ovens i.e [1] The energy of the microwave radiation exactly matches one of the rotational and vibrational energies of their molecules [2] They have the means to interact with the microwave radiation to absorb it's energy and produce heat.

For wax paper, most of it's particles do not satisfy the microwave absorption criteria [1] [2], so the paper as a whole, appears transparent to the microwave radiation and pass it through with little to no obstruction. Other materials that also appear transparent to microwave radiation include; microwave air, ice, parchment paper, glass, ceramics and plastics. Some of these substances form the basis for the manufacture of microwave safe materials.

Papers, ceramics and other materials employed as food containers or covers in microwave ovens do not get heated directly by the microwave radiation but rather from food sources that have been heated by the microwave radiation. Therefore, only food and not microwave radiation can actually heat wax paper to the point where it disintegrates i.e melting of the wax coating.

But this seldom happens with water based foods since they hardly exceed 212°F on their surface. The reason is due to the evaporative cooling of their surface by the cold air in the cavity. Another thing is the significant moisture accumulation on the surface of the food, which wets the interior of the wax paper and makes it difficult to melt off  the wax coating.

As for very fatty tissues and oily foods, even though these natural effects are present as a check mechanism, their surface temperatures can still easily surpass 170°F, which is significant enough to melt the wax coating on the paper. Burnt foods can also raise the temperature of wax paper past it's melting point and can even cause instant smoking or burning of the paper.

Can wax paper migrate any toxic substance into food?

Wax paper is generally made in two variants. The bleached and the unbleached.

If the bleached variant derives it's gleaming white appearance from an industrial bleaching process involving chlorine, chances are, some trace amounts of toxic dioxins created as effluents during the bleaching process have persisted into the final product and can migrate into food during cooking. According to this old fact sheet and this case study, the amounts of dioxins transferred into food from the chlorine bleached papers are insignificant and their health effects are negligible.

However, the World Health Organization, described dioxins as very persistent and highly toxic chemicals, and also mentioned that these chemicals can cling onto fatty tissues for a period of 7-11 years. This may imply that the very small amounts deposits into food during cooking can potentially accumulate to toxic levels over time and present their health risk to people.

It's better to err on the side of caution and do away with all chlorine bleached paper products for the present and future safety of ones health and the environment.

You can read more on dioxins from this report by the World Health Organization.

Is the wax coating on wax paper harmful?

No it’s not. The wax coating on wax paper is made from a food grade wax which means that it is safe to come in contact with food or when ingested. The only thing is that the wax coating has a slightly funny taste, so when it melts and run into food, it can ruin whatever you're cooking or reheating.

Why do Fats and oils reach higher temperatures and melt wax coating?

It’s because of their lower specific heat capacity. This allows them to reach higher temperatures compared to other substances for the same amount of heat generated.

What are some safety tips for using wax paper in the microwave?

Generally speaking, wax paper is most safe when used as a lid to prevent microwave messes. It hardly makes contact with the food so the risks of melting or burning is greatly reduced. Moreover, this is how most brands expect you to use their wax paper!

But that doesn't mean wax paper cannot be used to wrap foods for microwave cooking. It just needs to wrap the right kind of food for the right kind of situation.

Water based food like steak, fruits and garlic, at average microwaving conditions, wont heat up a wax paper to the point where the wax coating melts off. Foods with normal amount of fats or oils would also be fine to wrap in wax paper. But foods with very high amounts of fats, oils, or salt can easily melt the wax coating on the paper and transfer it into the food. A perfect substitute for this scenario would be parchment paper since it is treated to withstand temperatures upto 450°F.

Secondly, make sure to always purchase wax paper from a reliable brand. It will ensure you're wrapping the right kind of quality over your cheese or bacon.

Lastly, avoid using wax paper for too long in the microwave. The wax can eventually melt. In these situations, it’s best to stick with parchment paper or microwaveable lids.

What can i use wax paper for in a microwave oven?

Use wax paper for the following in a microwave oven.
  1. Reheat leftovers: Place the wax paper over a microwave-safe container to prevent contamination and splatter.
  2.  Use wax paper as a pouch for cooking foods like salmon, potato, corn, garlic, vegetables, scrambled eggs, banana bread etc. 
  3. Use wax paper as a lid for cooking in the microwave. 
  4. Use wax paper as a plate liner when cooking greasy foods such as bacon.
  5. Use wax paper as a pan liner for baking cakes and bread in the microwave oven.
  6. Cover foods meant to be defrosted in the microwave oven with a sheet of wax paper to ensure even heating.

What other things can you use in the microwave oven?

Here are everyday materials that can be used in the microwave oven;
  • Any utensil, container or wrap labelled for microwave use.
  • Parchment paper.
  • Glass-ceramic material.
  • Baking mats.
  • Oven cooking bags.
  • Glass, ceramics and plastics containers and wraps with a clear microwave safe label.
  • White paper plates, towels, napkins, bags and bowls.
  • Styrofoam; Do not use Styrofoam for fatty, oily foods, soups, or noodles.
  • Pyrex.
  • Straw or wooden basket.

What materials are not safe to use in the microwave oven?

Never use the following items in the oven;
  • Any utensil, container or wrap labelled not safe for microwave use.
  • Thin plastic storage bags.
  • Brown paper bags.
  • Plastic grocery bags.
  • Newspapers.
  • Aluminum foil: they are only safe to use in small amounts, like when shielding small areas of poultry food to prevent over cooking.
  • Metal pans.
  • Recycled materials.
  • One time food containers i.e yogurt cartons and margarine tubs.
  • Foam insulated cups, bowls, plates or trays.
  • Anything with metallic rim or handles.
  • Metal twist ties.
  • Warped or melted containers.

How to know if a container is safe to use in a microwave oven?

Use this test to know if a container is safe to use in the microwave oven.
  1. Pour 1 cup of water in a glass measuring cup.
  2. Place the glass cup along with the container you want to test side by side in the microwave oven.
  3. Heat at any setting for 1 minute.
  4. If the test container ends up warm or hot, do not use it.
Further Reading:
  1. Save time microwave it!- University of Nebraska Lincoln

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