Paper plates in wicker baskets at an evening picnic
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A microwave oven offers the utmost convenience when it comes to reheating or even cooking some foods. The caveat: The plate, bowl or container that goes into the microwave along with your food plays a huge role that could potentially ruin the meal by melting, warping or even catching fire. Products such as paper plates or paper towels are generally safe for reheating a slice of pizza in a pinch, but even so, caution should be exercised to ensure safety.

Microwaving on a Paper Plate

Generally speaking, it's safe to use a paper plate in the microwave. For the safest results, stick with plain white paper plates. Printed, decorated or non-white paper plates may increase the odds of fire, or they may leach chemicals into the food being heated.

If reheating a food that is greasy or oily, such as a slice of last night's pepperoni pizza, use a stack of two or even three paper plates, especially if the paper is flimsy. The extra layers will help absorb the grease, which also helps keep the plate closest to the pizza from failing and dropping your food as you remove it from the microwave.

After microwaving food, carefully slide the paper plate out of the microwave and onto a sturdy dish. This way, there's no risk of the paper plate bending and dumping the food. Allow the food to cool for at least a couple minutes, as some items such as melted cheese may be hot enough to cause burns.

Microwave-Safe Paper Products

Other paper items that are safe to microwave include wax paper, paper towels, paper napkins, plain paper bags and even parchment paper. Do not use brown paper bags, recycled paper or newspaper. Brown bags burn easier than paper plates and could be a fire hazard. Recycled paper may contain other materials or chemicals that aren't safe for food contact. Newspaper inks may contain toxins that could seep into the food. Newspaper also isn't generally clean enough for contact with food.

Will Paper Burn in the Microwave?

Even though plain white paper plates are generally safe to use in a microwave, other paper products could actually smolder or burn. Paper bags, plates or napkins with designs on them are decorated with who knows what kinds of inks. Some of these inks may be flammable, causing the paper to burn along the inked lines. Most paper bags also aren't designed to withstand heat, so they could catch fire when the food on or in them gets hot.

If you're microwaving any food on paper for longer than 30 seconds or so, keep an eye on it to ensure safety. Loosely cover foods that may splatter, such as spaghetti or any dish containing a lot of moisture, with a plain paper towel. This helps keep the inside of the microwave from looking like a restaurant exploded inside it.

Do not cover paper-plated food with plastic wrap, as the wrap may melt or warp, potentially leaching chemicals into the food. While you can use some forms of plastic in the microwave, including heavy-duty microwave-safe plastic wraps, plastic wrap is best placed over a bowl so it doesn't touch the food directly. Always leave up a corner for a steam vent.

The plastic-wrap rule is especially true for foods that take a long time to heat in the microwave, such as frozen or partially frozen meals. The longer the plastic wrap is heated in the microwave, the greater the chance it has to melt if it is touching even just a small amount of food.