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Can you microwave styrofoam?

Styrofoam, microwave safety, and heating tips

From on-the-go coffee to take-out meals, many products come in polystyrene containers. This article reviews whether you can microwave styrofoam, if doing so is safe, and precautions you can take.

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Can you microwave styrofoam?
Last updated on September 17, 2023, and last reviewed by an expert on February 18, 2023.

Microwaves have been around for decades and are known for making kitchen work — namely heating food — much simpler than in the past.

Can you microwave styrofoam?

However, due to health concerns, you may wonder what types of containers are best when microwaving your foods and beverages.

This article reviews whether you can microwave styrofoam, if doing so is safe, and what precautions you can take.

In this article

What is styrofoam?

Styrofoam is a term that The Dow Chemical Company trademarks. It refers to a polystyrene foam commonly used in the building industry.

However, in some countries, such as the United States and Canada, the term is often incorrectly used to refer to expanded polystyrene foam injected into molds to make disposable take-out containers, plates, coffee cups, and packaging peanuts.

These containers are popular because they’re cheap and act as good insulators, meaning they warm foods and beverages.

Though polystyrene containers were popular in the past, they have slowly been banned in several cities in the United States, such as San Francisco and Seattle, due to environmental and potential health concerns.

Environmentally, the containers do not decompose easily and are difficult to recycle. Also, animals may mistake them for food and eat them.

From a health perspective, they contain a compound called styrene, which has raised some concern, as it has been linked to cancers in animal and human studies.

Summary: Styrofoam is incorrectly used to refer to polystyrene foam containers that are commonly used to serve warm beverages and food.

Can you microwave styrofoam?

There is some concern about microwaving polystyrene foam containers.

One key reason is that they contain a compound called styrene, which human and animal studies have linked to cancer.

In addition, when foods or beverages are microwaved in containers made from polystyrene or plastic, substances used in manufacturing may leak into the food. This especially applies to fatty foods, such as meats and cheeses.

However, it’s important to note that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates plastic and polystyrene containers, cups, and plates and tests their safety and use in microwave ovens.

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That means any polystyrene or plastic products with a microwave-safe label have been tested for safety in the microwave.

On the other hand, avoid microwaving food in polystyrene containers not labeled as microwave safe, as their safety is not assured. This precaution is not specific to microwaves and applies to other heating methods.

Summary: You can microwave foods or beverages in polystyrene-labeled microwave-safe containers. Conversely, avoid putting polystyrene containers without microwave-safe labels in the microwave.

How to safely heat food

If you are concerned about heating food in a polystyrene container, here are some tips to help you microwave food safely:

Summary: The above tips may help you safely microwave or reheat your food. When microwaving, always use containers that are labeled safe for such use.

Summary

Avoid microwaving polystyrene containers that do not have a microwave-safe label, as their safety cannot be assured.

Suggested read: Is nonstick cookware like Teflon safe to use?

That’s because polystyrene containers contain a compound called styrene, which has been linked to cancer.

However, containers with a microwave-safe label have been tested and shouldn’t pose any styrene-related risks.

If you have any concerns, transfer your food into a microwave-safe ceramic, glass, or pyrex container before heating it.

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