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While I've come across one or two recipes that call for using plastic wrap in pots of boiling water (for example, to cook eggs), I've always been a bit wary of putting the wrap in boiling water. Can someone confirm or deny whether it is safe (or a good idea) to put plastic wrap in boiling water?

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Also note that there are two, possibly three things that plastic wrap may be made from: PVC, PE (polyethylene), and possibly PP (polypropylene). I believe most of the leaching concerns have been from PVC-based plastic wrap. –  derobert Mar 10 '11 at 23:05

4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Official:

No definitive answer, there are different governing bodies and plastic wraps (cling films) in the US/Europe. There are also different plastic wraps for different purposes, microwave safe, safe for use with fatty foods, so on. Whether its safe or not will depend on the product used and most likely the time boiled for. The UKs Food Standard Agency says no - "Do not use cling films where they may melt into the food, such as in conventional ovens or with pots and pans on cooker hobs". The cling film industry are understandably much more positive.

Practical:

I've poached eggs using cling film for ages and I'm still here. Read the plastic wrap boxes for warnings and choose the plastic wrap that's most suited. Poach an egg as described here and check if the wrap comes away cleanly, If so you're good. I'd revisit this advice if your recipe called for cooking like this for longer than 5-10 minutes, there are likely more suitable products/recipes for extensive boil-in-the-bag manoeuvres.

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So if bits of the egg are clinging to the wrap after boiling, is this a good or a bad thing? I'm going to guess...bad? –  Blakomen Jul 18 '10 at 11:42
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You should brush the inside of the cling film with melted butter or oil prior to poaching. see the link in my post. –  Pulse Jul 18 '10 at 11:47

Agree with ceejayoz that melting isn't the issue. Melting is just the upper bound for problems. The common concern is about leaching, the diffusion of chemical toxins from the plastic into the food. It's known to be accelerated through fats and at heat, hence the concern. There seems to be consensus that "some" leaching occurs; the issue is that it's unclear how much, from which plastics, whether the body absorbs or excretes it, and if it matters.

Alarmists will tell you that the chemical run-off is toxic and causes everything from cancer to birth-defects.

Governments have looked into the issue but not come out with a hard no. Industry groups are fighting the issue, but losing public opinion on things like waterbottles (see nalgene, which removed Bisphenol A (BP-A)from their formula).

Chefs generally care more about results than fringe chances of non-lethal toxicity and they have been using plastic wrap for as long as it's been around.

What should you do? It depends. Weigh fear with convenience. Use good quality products if you do use it. Don't do it too often. Or just enjoy it.

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Great rundown of the uncertainty... :) –  GalacticCowboy Jul 29 '10 at 14:04
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Thanks. As a frequent cook, borderline news addict, and occasional health nut, I've seen this issue perking it's little plastic head up for a while. –  Ocaasi Jul 29 '10 at 15:02
    
Interestingly enough, BPA and PVC (the phthalates in PVC are great for scares) aren't in brand-name Saran Wrap or Ziploc products. –  justkt Mar 9 '11 at 20:16

This article (1) says that plastic can release cancerous toxins, while this one (2) says this is a hoax. I would be careful and do some more research before using the plastic in this situation.

(1): www.foodproductiondaily.com/Packaging/Research-suggests-cancer-link-to-plastic-packaging

(2): www.hoax-slayer.com/plastic-cancer-link-hoax.html

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Water boils at 100c(212f). Good quality plastic wrap has a melting point between 120 and 140c(250 to 290f) So the answer is, it's ok, Just make sure you read the carton when buying the wrap, it should tell you the safe temperatures.

You can view my comments here How should I poach an egg? regarding the poaching of eggs in plastic wrap. It's something I do quite often.

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Melting is not the only concern when it comes to plastic. –  ceejayoz Jul 18 '10 at 12:09
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Agreed, there are concerns. The jury, however, stills seems undecided. I guess the bottom line is, if you have a concern, don't employ these methods. –  Pulse Jul 18 '10 at 12:34

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