Microwaving styrofoam with food in it

Is it Safe to Microwave Food in Styrofoam Containers? (Solved)

Everyone’s heard of instant cup noodles. We’ve all tried it once or twice… or even a 100 of times, but has anyone bothered to read the warning label on the package?

I’m a long-time veteran of eating cup noodles and I can honestly say that I haven’t. The thought has never crossed my mind.

In this article, I want to go over the question of whether or not it’s safe to microwave instant noodles packaged in a Styrofoam cup that they come in.

But let’s get straight to the point.

It’s not safe to microwave styrofoam. Styrofoam is fundamentally comprised of a compound known as styrene. In multiple studies across the world which included animals and humans, there was a common conclusion to how this compound is directly linked to cancer. Additional studies have found that heating up containers made of polystyrene have been found to leak into foods as well. It’s important that when you come across styrofoam food containers, you know how to properly cook the food and avoid health risks.

This is where this article comes in as a guide. I also want to explain the reasons why several safety concerns are associated with microwaving instant noodles from the styrofoam container that they come in.

What is styrofoam?

Styrofoam is a material that’s used in the production of plastic and polystyrene foam.

Polystyrene is made from styrene, a plastic polymer. The term “polystyrene” is used to refer to multiple types of polymers that are created through this chemical process; some are used as components in plastic, while others are produced as foams or other products.

These containers have gain popularity due to them being widely available and easy to produce. They are also considered good for insulation and thus helps keep food and drinks warm for longer periods.

These polystyrene containers have become so widely used and so popular that it was a shock to the nation when studies discovered their health risks. More and more states are banning together to prohibit the use of styrofoam material for food.

Aside from the major risk factors with our food, it’s also well known that this material doesn’t decompose so easily and can leave areas desolate with the trash that can last hundreds of years. It’s been studied that it will take 500 years for styrofoam to decompose so it is officially considered a non-biodegradable pollutant.

Why is styrofoam bad?

The major concern came about when studies and years’ worth of research finally came up with the conclusion that styrofoam was linked to cancer.

Styrofoam was widely used as containers for food and many households unknowingly believed there is no harm in microwaving styrofoam containers with food.

When the conclusion of these studies was available, the question about whether it was even safe to microwave styrofoam came up. As the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) got involved, they decided to regulate the about of the compound that was allowed in the materials that were used in conjunction with food. Manufacturers had to comply with these protocols if they were to continue producing foods contained in this material.

What happens when you microwave styrofoam cup noodles?

Microwaving styrofoam with food in it v3
Microwaving styrofoam with food in it v3

While it might not kill you right away if you accidentally ate food from a microwaved food container, it’s highly advised to avoid heating styrofoam with food.

It is found that styrofoam beads begin to melt at the temperature of 464 °F (240 °C). Now, to put this into perspective, water boils at 212 °F (100 °C). However, styrofoam containers will start to soften much before reaching their melting point.

When styrofoam is heated, it begins to leach styrene and benzene. These are chemicals known to be toxic if consumed. Over time, these chemicals can cause some serious health problems.

If you Google Search polystyrene toxicity, you’ll find millions of results and there are so many studies that have otherwise concluded that it should not be heated with food.

Styrofoam component styrene is linked to cancer

In a 2018 study by the World Health Organization (WHO), they labeled styrene as a carcinogen. Many other health organizations have since followed suit in classifying styrene as having some connection to cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer and the Department of Health and Human Services also agree.

It is also linked to hormone complications

Plastic chemicals and components are also known to mimic and take similar properties to estrogen, a hormone that helps develop and maintain the reproductive system in females. Estrogen also contributes to mental, bone, and cardiovascular health as well.

How much leaching can come from styrene?

A study about styrofoam cups wanted to test and see how much of the styrofoam components were emitted out when introduced to heat. This study mainly focused on answering the issues concerning people who drink hot tea or coffee from a styrofoam cup. The study showed that after reaching 70°C, the concentration of styrene was detected. And as the temperature rises, more and more styrene was leached into the hot beverage.

Temperature (°C)Styrene concentration leached (ug/L)
Temperatures in celsius at which Styrene releases measured in ug/L concentration

Make sure to use microwave-safe containers

These are sold everywhere at your local grocery store. Packages will often label that these products are microwave safe. If it doesn’t, just assume that it’s not safe.

Transfer food from styrofoam to a microwavable plate

Always remember that you shouldn’t heat food contained in styrofoam. If you order take out, there’s a good chance the container it comes in is made of styrofoam. Take the food out and instead put into any ceramic or glass bowl or plate and microwave it if needed. Also if you happen to order food to go, ask the restaurant if they have other container options. Paper plates are a good alternative. If not, try to immediately transfer your food to a safer material when possible.

The bottom line

Styrofoam containers are made from polystyrene, a common material that is used to make plastic. It is a light, rigid and clear plastic that is also inexpensive. If you heat the polystyrene in styrofoam with food, you risk leaching toxic chemicals into it. This chemical leaching can cause cancer and complications with the reproductive system in females.

Never microwave food in styrofoam. I need to, transfer the food to a ceramic or glass bowl or plate and then microwave it. When microwaving items, always use a glass bowl or plate if possible. Always transfer the food from the container when possible.

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