Is it safe to use plastic food wrap for microwave cooking? Which wraps work best for preserving perishable foods? Can aluminum foil actually cause certain foods to spoil more quickly? Is it okay to reuse these expensive coverings if you clean them thoroughly?
Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about plastic, wax paper and aluminum products.
Question: When should I and shouldn’t I use plastic wrap?
Answer: Plastic wraps are best for covering up perishable items, such as cheese or lunch meats, since the wrap can conform to the food’s shape better than less malleable products. But if the seal on the wrap is not airtight, food can dry out, get moldy or taste rancid. When it comes to microwaving with plastic, make sure the product label says it can be safely used for this purpose! Don’t let the wrap touch the food during microwaving, because some foods will absorb the chemicals in the plastic. Wrap the food loosely, to avoid splatter during the cooking process.
Question: What is the best use of wax paper?
Answer: Wax paper is a boon during prep work: It can be used as a catchall on the counter surface when sifting flour, chopping veggies or rolling out dough. But never place wax paper in the oven, as the wax will melt. Instead, use parchment paper, which is made to withstand heat during baking.
Question: Is aluminum foil a good choice for food storage and cooking?
Answer: Aluminum foil is great for covering casseroles or other foods while cooking. It can also do double duty and go from the oven to the refrigerator (or vice versa!), serving as a lid for dishes and pans. It is sometimes used to protect ham and other cured meats from exposure to light, which can cause discoloration. However, aluminum foil may not be the best choice when it comes to storing acidic foods, like tomatoes, citrus fruits, berries or onions: It can cause these foods to take on a metallic taste (better to use plastic for acidic items).
Question: Can any of these wraps ever be reused?
Answer: Because there is no effective way to properly clean plastic, wax or aluminum wraps, throw them away after use. Otherwise, you run the very real risk of cross-contaminating your food, which increases your chances of getting a nasty food-borne illness.