Convenience and efficiency are two of human beings’ favorite things in life. We want it all, and we want it now. If you need something to eat that requires little to no preparation time, many people will turn to quick, packaged options.
Because of that fact, some people have raised questions about can you microwave Styrofoam?
The answer is no. Styrofoam food containers are made of polystyrene, which is not microwave-safe. When heated in a microwave, these containers melt at 464 ℉, releasing toxic chemicals into your food and drink. However, they are safe for storing food in both refrigerators and freezers.
To delve deeper, we’ve prepared an informative post explaining why it’s not a good idea to microwave Styrofoam. However, if you’d like to know how to heat a Styrofoam microwave-safe container be sure to check out our guide, alongside safety tips to do so.
What Is Styrofoam?
Before we go into why microwaving Styrofoam isn’t a great idea, it’s vital to understand what it is. Doing so will help you avoid costly errors when dealing with Styrofoam products in general.
So, what is Styrofoam?
Styrofoam is a registered trademark of The Dow Chemical Company for extruded polystyrene foam. Its marketing department coined it as a brand name for their insulating products.
In most cases, Styrofoam refers to polystyrene foam or extruded polystyrene foam (XPS) depending on its use. They are often disposable containers used for takeout and ready-to-eat meals, as well as other foodservice items such as meat trays, cups, saucers, etc.,
However, some people refer to all types of foam packaging materials as “Styrofoam,” but that’s incorrect; only extruded polystyrene foam qualifies.
While there have been attempts to ban specific Styrofoam uses (due to environmental concerns), it remains widespread throughout most industries. This is because it’s lightweight, stores easily, and doesn’t require much energy to produce. Plus, it can be cleaned and sanitized.
But from a health & safety standpoint, Styrofoam contains styrene monomer, which has been linked to cancer, especially when exposed to high temperatures such as in microwaves, posing a health risk to humans.
And that’s not the only reason why these containers are unsuitable for microwave use. Continue reading……
5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Microwave Styrofoam
Most people are uninformed about using their microwaves and aren’t aware of just how unsafe Styrofoam can be. Now that we’ve established what Styrofoam is, let’s talk about why they are dangerous for use in the microwave, no matter how convenient it may seem
1. Toxic Chemicals
Research has suggested the presence of two chemicals in Styrofoam containers that can leach into your food; styrene and benzene. The former chemical is a known carcinogen, while the latter can cause cancer in humans and animals.
So, when microwaved, these harmful toxins will be absorbed into your food or drink, increasing your risk of acquiring life-threatening illnesses.
2. Unsafe At Extreme Temperature
When overheated, a Styrofoam Container will melt at a temperature of 464 ℉. Due to their chemical composition, melting or burning your plastic container is highly likely to release toxic fumes that can be dangerous if inhaled or ingested.
Additionally, the structural integrity of your plastic container may be weakened, splattering food all over your microwave and causing damage or fire.
Most Styrofoam products are made from polystyrene, which does not break down naturally. This makes them unsuitable for use in any natural environment as they pollute the environment easily. So, the next time you want to reheat your leftover Chinese food in a Styrofoam container, remember that these containers are not recyclable.
4. Banned by FDA
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has prohibited the use of Styrofoam in any form of food packaging. They have cited that styrene’s leaching ability when heated is harmful to human health and poses serious safety concerns.
Moreover, data suggests that microwaving polystyrene containers, such as disposable plates and cups, can cause cancer in humans.
5. Takes Long To Heat Up
Styrofoam takes longer to heat up due to its insulating nature. Since microwave radiation cannot penetrate Styrofoam containers easily, it makes it harder for your food or drink to reach high temperatures.
As a result, you’ll need to put food in and take it out of your microwave multiple times before it is heated fully. This inefficient process can lead to a lot of time spent microwaving and more money spent on electricity over time.
How to Safely Heat Food in A Styrofoam Container
Before we get started, it is worth noting that this guide is only for microwave-safe Styrofoam containers that the FDA has approved. Any other Styrofoam container that does not meet these requirements should be avoided.
Failure to do so, your container may melt, releasing toxins into your food, causing severe health risks.
That’s said, microwaving your food is a pretty straightforward process. Here are six easy steps to safely microwave your food in a Styrofoam container.
1st Step – Use Styrofoam Containers with the Microwave-Safe Label
Only use microwave-safe containers (usually indicated on the bottom of the container). The label must have words like “microwave safe” or a three-squiggly-line logo showing that it has been lab-tested and certified for microwave use.
However, if it is too much risk, you can transfer your food to a microwave-safe container such as ceramic or glass.
2nd Step – Set the Timer to 30 Seconds
Set your timer to intervals no longer than 30 seconds. If you choose a longer time interval, the Styrofoam container may overheat and melt, releasing toxins into your food.
3rd Step – Heat at Medium Power
Avoid heating your food with very high or low microwave power settings (often labeled Hi or Lo). Styrofoam has a melting point of 464 ℉.
When overheated, Styrofoam will melt and release toxins into your food. Your best bet is medium heat, between 50-70% depending on how powerful your microwave is.
4th Step – Check after Every 30 Seconds
Check on your food every 30 seconds to ensure that it does not overheat and release toxins into your food. The key here is moderation; you want to ensure that your food has enough time to heat thoroughly before becoming too hot.
5th Step – Safely Remove the Styrofoam Container
Remove your container from the microwave. Use an oven mitt or potholder to protect yourself from burning, as these containers retain a lot of heat.
Final Step – Clean Your Microwave
When finished, clean your microwave before using it to reheat another food. This will ensure that your next meal doesn’t come with unnecessary health risks or nasty aftertastes. All you need is a damp paper towel and a dab of soap or water to wipe down all parts of your microwave.
Safely Precautions When Microwaving Food
When it comes to microwaving food in a Styrofoam container, there are several precautions you should take into consideration.
- Use microwave-safe Styrofoam container only: If you don’t want to risk microwaving in a Styrofoam container, many other safe options are available that won’t leach chemicals into your food, such as glass or ceramics.
- Ensure your microwave container is made of scratch-resistant Styrofoam: Ensure no chips or cracks in your container before microwaving, as these can cause chemicals to leach into your food.
- Unseal the container when microwaving: If your food is in a container, be sure to remove any lid or seal before placing it in your microwave. This will prevent potentially dangerous pressure build-up as your food heats up.
- Avoid plastic wrap to cover your food: Instead of covering your microwaved food with plastic wrap, use a napkin or a paper towel. Plastic wrap, when hot, can leach harmful chemicals into your food.
- Don’t overheat: If you must reheat Styrofoam containers, do so in 30-second interval increments instead of leaving it in for longer periods. Overheating can result in damaged and deformed containers as well as the leaching of toxins into your food.
Faqs About Microwaving Styrofoam Container
1. Is it safe to microwave Styrofoam?
The short answer is no. Styrofoam contains a styrene chemical, which leaches into food when heated, posing potential health risks, including neurological damage and cancer.
2. Is it safe to reheat food in Styrofoam containers?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises against reheating food in plastic containers, including Styrofoam.
These containers melt when heated and form carcinogenic compounds, such as styrene and benzene. As a result, the chemicals can seep into your food or beverages and get ingested, causing severe health problems.
3. What type of Styrofoam can be microwaved?
There are two types of Styrofoam, and neither should be used in a microwave unless they are specifically marked microwave safe. The first is expanded polystyrene, while the second type is extruded polystyrene, also called XPS foam. Both Styrofoam will leach toxins into your foods hence not safe for microwave use.
4. Can you microwave Styrofoam for 30 seconds?
Yes, you can. However, certain safety precautions should be taken into consideration when microwaving Styrofoam. Always ensure your Styrofoam container has the microwave-safe symbol on it.
Also, remember to heat at moderate power (50% or less) and keep an eye on your food throughout its heating time. Overheating may cause harmful chemicals to leach from your food.
5. Why do Starbucks cups say no to microwave?
Starbucks cups cannot be heated in the microwave. This is because the paper cup lining and the adhesive glue that binds it together will melt at high temperatures, causing a leak. The toxic mixture can be dangerous for anyone who handles it.
Since many customers in Starbucks are on-the-go, there is a concern that someone would try to reheat their coffee in a microwave, which would lead to serious health issues.
6. Why can’t metal go to the microwave?
When you put metal in a microwave, it will reflect microwaves, potentially causing arcing or sparking. If not handled properly, the sparks can cause minor injuries or even start a fire. Thus, when it comes to heating your meals, it’s best to use only plastic or glass containers.
7. Can you microwave Panda Express Styrofoam?
Yes, you can microwave Panda Express Styrofoam. The new food containers are made of polypropylene, which is safe to heat in microwaves. Additionally, they are dishwasher safe and recyclable, making them even more convenient for your busy life.
Using styrofoam containers and utensils to prepare food and drink can lead to severe health complications down the road. It’s not just about cancer. The chemicals released from these products can wreak havoc on your body system.
Furthermore, microwaving your food in a container made from Styrofoam releases toxins into our body, and it’s impossible to remove them once they enter our systems.
So yes, microwaving Styrofoam is a bad idea for all of the above reasons. But most importantly, because you deserve better than toxic chemicals slowly destroying your body. Fortunately, there are safe alternatives; look for glass, ceramic plates, or bowls that have the microwave-safe label whenever possible.
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