Styrofoam isn’t only harmful to your health but it’s also detrimental to the planet. It’s made of petroleum-based plastic. So, when people ask “can you microwave Styrofoam,” the answer is no.
Plastic is never safe when it’s heated in a microwave, unless it’s marked to be microwave-friendly.
What Happens When You Microwave Styrofoam?
Microwave is a kitchen appliance that’s powerful enough to cause sparks and explosions if it’s not used properly. It can also cause toxins to leach from the container into your foods.
When you heat your food and place it in Styrofoam plates or containers, then you might smell burnt plastic during the process.
If you need to heat up the food, you should transfer it from the Styrofoam to a glass container. This type of container is your safest bet when heating food with this powerful appliance. However, you should only use a glass container that’s microwaveable.
On the other hand, if you can’t find a glass container that’s microwave-safe, you might use paper plates or towels. Then again, they have to be microwaveable, some cups are even coated with plastic.
You can also use ceramics that are made of porcelain or stoneware and not those ceramic dishes that could brake in the heat.
Essentially, you should only use a container that’s labeled microwave-safe.
Microwave oven doesn’t immediately melt Styrofoam. If you put it inside and heat up your food for 30 seconds or less, it’ll not burn the container. However, if the temperature of the oven exceeds 212º F, then expect the Styrofoam to melt.
Even if the Styrofoam doesn’t melt when you heat it, the plastic in it leaks and goes into your food. The plastic component of Styrofoam will go inside your body when you eat the food from the heated Styrofoam container.
Of course, you won’t die or get sick immediately. It may take time before the plastic components can accumulate in your body causing harm to your system.
Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Microwave Styrofoam
Styrofoam contains a chemical called styrene which has been linked to cancer, impaired memory and concentration, vision and hearing loss, and nervous system effects among others.
That said, if you regularly heat your food in a container made with styrene, you may soon experience irritation of the skin, eyes, and gastrointestinal effects.
However, some Styrofoam and other polystyrene containers are believed to be safe used in the microwave. Always check the label though. Each Styrofoam product is labeled with a number categorized by its makeup. Certain numbers are more safe than others but I would just stay away from microwaving food in Styrofoam altogether, just to be safe.
How Dangerous is Styrene?
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified styrene as a “possible human carcinogen” and The National Toxicology Program (NTP) stated that styrene is “reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen,”
Concurrently, polystyrene (Styrofoam) can be solid or foamed. Solid polystyrene is used to make cottage cheese and yogurt containers, cups, and plastic cutlery. However, styrene has shown not to leach out of hard plastics. It is probably safe using Styrofoam cups for cold drinks, but I would stay away from using them for hot tea or coffee. It’s also not recommended for using solid plastic containers for hot food.
Styrene causes the most danger to people in the manufacturing workplace. However, the NTP reports that styrene has “limited” cause to cancer, it describes that workers exposed to this chemical have increased risk of damage in white blood cells, lymphoma, and leukemia. Styrene has also been associated with fatigue, headache and respiratory problems. Studies in mice showed increased risk of lung tumors. The US Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Administration and the EPA are aware of styrene’s negative effects, but haven’t limit its usage.
Furthermore, styrene is also danger to environment. It is very hard to recycle. Styrofoam appears to last forever, as it is resistant to photolysis, or the breaking down of materials by photons originating from a light source. Styrofoam is manufactured by using HFCs, or hydrofluorocarbons, which have negative impacts on the ozone layer and global warming. Styrene generates about 20 million pounds of waste annually, 17.8 million pounds wind up in the air and 1.7 million pounds gets into surface waters. It also takes 500 years to decompose, and it takes up 25-30% of our world’s landfills. In addition, our lakes, waterways and oceans are suffering thanks to Styrofoam waste. There are 57 chemical by-products released during the manufacturing of styrene, polluting our air and waterways.
How Are Containers Labeled?
The containers that are used to package food in the United States are regulated by the FDA. The tests are done on animals and then calculated how the data would affect humans. The FDA claims to be conservative with the “microwave safe” label, requiring 100-1000 times less chemicals than have been shown to harm laboratory animals over a lifetime of use. For microwave approval, the agency takes into account how long the container is likely to be in the microwave, how often a person is likely to eat from that container, how hot the food may be expected to get during microwaving, and the ratio of plastic surface area to food.
Can You Use Aluminum Foil Instead?
Aluminum foil isn’t safe to be heated in a microwave. The thin pieces in the aluminum foil can overwhelm the currents in the oven causing it to heat up quickly. As a result, it may cause a fire.
It’s also not a good idea to heat up food in metal containers for the same reason as to why you can’t microwave an aluminum foil.
As to the use of brown paper bags, the USDA have said that it’s not sanitary. It may also cause fire or emit toxic fumes. And if you heat the paper bags for more than a minute, they can emit fumes which may cause the bag to ignite and cause a fire in the oven.
How To Defrost Packaged Meat in the Microwave?
Many meats sold at the grocery stores are packaged in the Styrofoam tray and covered with a plastic wrap. Remember to take the meat out of the packaging completely before putting it in the microwave. This type of packaging is not heat resistant at high temperatures. It will likely warp or melt causing harmful chemicals to migrate into food. Put the frozen food in a microwave safe container instead and cover loosely. Select the defrost feature on the microwave (usually set at 30 % power).
Like stated before. when you microwave a Styrofoam plate with food in it, you’re actually eating the poison from the heated styro. Prolonged exposure to microwave heat can cause leaching of chemicals into your food.
Styrofoam is easy to mold and deformed when it’s heated. Thus, it easily sticks to your food.
So, when you notice an indentation in the heated Styrofoam where you placed the food, the chemicals in the styro have already leaked into your food. But, as mentioned earlier, it won’t immediately kill you.
It’s not yet known as to how much plastic you can take that’s still safe for your body. When it gets inside your system, your body can’t easily excrete it. If you continuously or regularly heat styro or plastic in a microwave, then you might soon experience the effects of too much exposure to these things.
When using your microwave oven, it’s a must that you remember that takeout containers, like Styrofoam, water bottle and jars, are not safe to be heated in this oven. It’s also not ideal to heat takeout dinner trays, especially those that are designed for one-time use, unless they’re labeled as microwave-safe (without the harmful BPA and phthalates chemical). Any chemical leakage is likely to be greater with fatty foods such as meats and cheeses than with other foods.
Even if the container is labeled with a recycle symbol, it doesn’t mean that you can safely use it for heating food in a microwave. You must only use a container that has a microwave-safe icon.
Many people people argue that occasionally eating food out of microwaved take-out Styrofoam boxes may be fine but why take the risk? It’s easy to just put it in another container and heat up the food in a safer way.
If you really want to use the Styrofoam containers in the microwave, reduce the cooking time to seconds and not to minutes. If the Styrofoam gets too hot, it will cause the plastic to leach into your food. You should only use containers with the label “microwave-safe” or its associated icon. When you heat up food in the microwave, there’s no need for you to heat it for a long time anyways.
Some labels may even say that “Recommended only for limited microwave use in reheating dry foods such as sandwiches, crackers and breads. Reheating hot liquids may melt this product”.
Additionally, you would do the environment a favor by eliminating the use of Styrofoam containers. If you want to be more eco-friendly, look for products that are easily recycled, contain biodegradable materials or manufactured from renewable resources.