Microwaves have been around for decades and are known for making kitchen work — namely heating food — much simpler than it was in the past.
However, due to health concerns, you may wonder what types of containers are best when it comes to microwaving your foods and beverages.
This article reviews whether you can microwave styrofoam, if doing so is safe, and precautions you can take.
Styrofoam is a term that’s trademarked by The Dow Chemical Company. It refers to a type of polystyrene foam that’s commonly used in the building industry (1).
However, in some countries, such as the United States and Canada, the term is often incorrectly used to refer to a type of expanded polystyrene foam that is 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 a good insulator, meaning they keep foods and beverages warm.
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 (4).
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 (
Styrofoam is incorrectly used to refer to polystyrene foam containers that are commonly used to serve warm beverages and food.
There is some concern about microwaving polystyrene foam containers.
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 (11).
That means any polystyrene or plastic products that have the microwave-safe label have been tested for safety in the microwave.
On the other hand, avoid microwaving food in polystyrene containers that are not labeled as microwave safe, as their safety is not assured. This precaution is not specific to microwaves and also applies to other heating methods.
You can microwave foods or beverages in polystyrene containers that are labeled microwave-safe. Conversely, avoid putting polystyrene containers without microwave-safe labels in the microwave.
If you are concerned about heating food in a polystyrene container, here are some tips to help you microwave food safely:
- Use a microwave-safe container. If you are using a styrofoam container, check to see if it has a microwave-safe label.
- Transfer food to ceramic or glass before microwaving. Alternatively, transfer the food into a ceramic, glass, or pyrex container before heating.
- Use the stove or an oven. Another way to avoid any potential risks is to transfer the food into a pot or pan to heat on the stovetop, or into a baking tray to heat in the oven.
- Check for scratches or cracks. Polystyrene and plastic containers that are old or have scratches or cracks should be disposed of, as they may leach potentially harmful chemicals.
- Vent the container before heating it. This prevents pressure from forming, causing food inside the container to explode.
- Carefully remove the container. Use mittens or gloves to remove the container after heating to avoid burning your hands.
The above tips may help you microwave or reheat your food safely. When microwaving, always use containers that are labeled safe for such use.
Avoid microwaving polystyrene containers that do not have a microwave-safe label, as their safety cannot be assured.
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 prior to heating it.