Can You Microwave Styrofoam?

Styrofoam containers are popular in most take-outs restaurants.

“Can you microwave styrofoam?” is a popular question because most clients enjoy their coffee hot.

Our article today will give you detailed reviews on Styrofoam containers, their microwave safety, and tips for microwaving them. Enjoy the piece.

Can You Microwave Styrofoam?

There are mixed reactions to this question. Yes, you can microwave styrofoam if it has a microwave-safe label, and no if the container does not have the safety label. 

Styrofoam is a type of extended polystyrene that contains a carcinogenic compound called styrene.

Styrofoam is popularly used in the construction industry for insulation but the term is popularly used in kitchenware to stereotype all polystyrene white containers used by restaurants to serve take-outs.

The EPS containers are popular since they are affordable and their insulating properties keep food warm.

Styrofoam has been banned in several cities due to its health and environmental hazards.

The containers are environmentally unfit since they take a long time to decompose yet they are unrecyclable.

The fact that the take-out containers are designed for single-use makes them a pollution hazard.

Styrofoam containers make up 30% of landfill litter in the United States.

Styrofoam packaging containers are not recyclable since there is no ideal method to sanitize them making them a perfect breeding surface for bacteria.

The containers are considered a  health hazard since they contain styrene which is potentially harmful to animal and human health.

High levels of styrene in the body can affect your nervous system, and reproductive system or even cause cancer.

Styrofoam containers can keep food and drink hot due to their insulating properties (they are bad conductors of heat. 

These are the same properties that will hinder them from allowing heat waves to reach the food and hence jeopardize the process. The food ends up with unevenly heated spots.

Related post: Can you microwave plastic water bottle?

Is It Safe To Microwave Food In Styrofoam?

Yes, it is safe to microwave a styrofoam container as long as it has a safety label; usually 3  small but bold wavy lines at the bottom of the container.

Styrofoam remains stable at considerable temperatures but melts above 460 degrees Fahrenheit. It starts to warp at around 21o degrees Fahrenheit.

One-time microwave use may not have major repercussions but repeated exposure is dangerous.

You should therefore discard the container after a single use.

There are two types of styrofoam containers in the market:

  1.      The Traditional Styrofoam Containers

This type is microwave-unsafe and they have flooded the market since they are cheap.

Such containers are only ideal for holding warm foods and refrigeration but not for reheating purposes.

The styrofoam cups can comfortably handle hot coffee because the hot liquid does not attain  210 degrees Fahrenheit which is the temperature at which polystyrene starts to soften.

The following are the dangers of microwaving traditional styrofoam containers:

  • Polystyrene starts to soften when heated to 210 degrees Fahrenheit and melts at 460 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Melted styrofoam can leach poisonous chemical compounds into the food.
  • The melted styrofoam can also burn your hands if you touch it without oven gloves.
  • Melted polystyrene is highly combustible and can burn the appliance or the entire kitchen.
  • Excessively high temperatures will cause the containers to crack and the cracked pieces can land in the food. The pieces are potentially dangerous if ingested.
  • The high microwave heat can deform the structure of the styrofoam take-out containers and cause spillage. The hot fluids can cause serious burns.
  • Since styrofoam is a poor conductor of heat, the food ends up with uneven hot spots which can burn your mouth and gut.

The harmful styrene compound might not migrate into the food when you microwave a traditional styrofoam container but the quality of the food may be distorted depending on the following:

  • The exposure time
  • The heating temperatures.
  • The amount of fat present.
  • The type of food.
  •  The storage conditions of the polystyrene container.

The styrene compound will mostly affect warm, oily, alcoholic, or acidic food.

2.   Microwavable  Styrofoam Containers

The microwave-safe styrofoam plates and cups are rare and expensive.

These containers pass the Food and Drugs Administration requirements of chemical compounds and hence possess a microwave-safe sticker.

Microwave-safe polystyrene containers are more stable in high heat and also contain fewer poisonous chemical compounds.

However, broken polystyrene cups and plates should not be microwaved. The broken pieces can land in food.

The following are the safety tips for microwaving styrofoam containers:

  • Check for a microwave-safe label before throwing it in the microwave.
  • Check the manufacturer’s recommendations for microwaving polystyrene cups.
  • Avoid cracked or scratched styrofoam take-out containers because they can leach chemicals into your food.
  • Create a vent on the container to let the steam out. Hit steam will damage the cup or plate.
  • Adjust the microwave’s temperature. It should be below 210degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Set the timer to 30 seconds. Heating for long hours raises the microwave heat to unbearable temperatures.
  • If you intend to heat your food for more minutes, you should do it at intervals.
  • Dispose of the polystyrene container immediately after microwaving. These containers are meant for single use and reusing will make them leach chemical compounds into your coffee.
  • Use your oven gloves to remove the hot container from the microwave.
  • If you still feel unsure about microwaving the take-outs containers, transfer your food into a microwavable container.

The following are the alternatives to microwaving styrofoam

Styrofoam containers are potentially harmful but the following options are safer:

  •  Take-out cups made from edible glassware 
  •  To-go containers made from recycled plastics
  •  Ceramic plates and cups
  •  Wood fiber containers.
  • Pyrex plates and cups.

Most people have stereotyped styrofoam as a dangerous material no explanation will convince them otherwise.

If you only want to reheat your food in their packaging take-outs containers you can use the following alternative methods:

  •  Wrap the container using an electric blanket and leave it for a few minutes.
  •  Put the styrofoam container in considerably hot water and leave it to warm.
  • Transfer the food to a pot and use a conventional heating method like a stove.

How Should I Microwave My Food in Styrofoam Containers?

Below are the steps for microwaving polystyrene containers:

  • Look for the microwave-safe label. Do not microwave the container if you are not sure about its safety.
  • Place a paper towel below the styrofoam container. The paper towel will absorb liquids in case of spillage.
  • Set the microwave temperature. The temperatures should be maintained below 210 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Set the microwave timer to 30 seconds.
  • Use oven gloves to handle the microwaved take-out plates.

How Long Should You Heat Styrofoam in The Microwave?

Time is a major factor that must be observed when heating styrofoam containers.

The recommended heating time is 30 seconds and an extension calls for precaution.

 Leaving the microwave running for long causes more heat to build up in the oven.

Too much heat is detrimental to styrofoam containers. High temperatures make the material soften or warp.

The containers will melt if left for a long time in a running appliance.

The leached tiny particles will contaminate the food 

The containers too are likely to lose their initial shape and cause spillages.

The container too can crack into pieces which are dangerous if swallowed.

Are There Microwave-safe Styrofoam Products?

Microwave-safe styrofoam products are plenty in major stores like Amazon.

 However, they are costlier than the locally available microwave unsafe EPs containers.

Such containers have a small microwave-proof symbol at the bottom. The symbol is usually illustrated by 3 wavy lines.

Microwave-safe polystyrene containers have no styrene and are approved by FDA.

You should never assume that a styrofoam container is microwave safe just by the look.

If you are not sure, use another alternative to beat your food.

The bottom line

Styrofoam remains stable at normal conditions but melts when subjected to high heat.

There are both microwave-safe and microwave-unsafe styrofoam containers in the market.

Microwave-unsafe polystyrene containers contain a cancer-causing compound called styrene.

Look out for a microwave-proof symbol before you put any styrofoam container in the microwave otherwise, safety is not guaranteed.

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