Microwaves make it convenient to heat precooked foods up and make easy meals. However, there are some objects and foods that should not be microwaved. But is styrofoam one of the materials that should not be microwaved?
A good rule of thumb is to never microwave styrofoam, as styrofoam often contains materials that are linked to cancer. However, there are some microwave-safe styrofoams that have been tested thoroughly by the FDA. These types of styrofoams have been approved for microwave use.
With this in mind, it is important to understand why it is bad to microwave styrofoam, what good replacements are, how to tell if it is safe to microwave or not, and additional microwave tips and tricks.
Reasons Why It is Unsafe to Microwave Styrofoam
Styrofoam is a type of polystyrene or foam-like material. Certain types of polystyrene have been previously used as a building materials. The form that is used for food storage is just expanded polystyrene that is put into a mold to create cups, plates, and other containers. The history of this material alone is something that should make someone cautious.
However, there are some more concrete reasons that people shouldn’t microwave styrofoam. The biggest reason is that it has been linked to increasing the odds of cancer in animal and humans. The main types of cancer that are connected to heating up styrofoam include lymphoma, leukemia, lung cancer, and genetic damage.
This is caused by heating up a part of the styrofoam called plasticizers. The plasticizers are plastic portions of styrofoam that can melt and leak onto food at certain temperatures. This is especially true for foods that have high levels of fat like cheese and meat.
However, as previously mentioned, some have been deemed safe for microwave use. They look at styrofoam objects and test them for styrene release and leakage. If it is 100-1000 times lower than numbers that have been linked to cancer in animals, they deem it safe. It is up to the individual if they feel it is safe to heat up, but it is not highly recommended.
The best way to tell if a plastic plate or cup has polystyrene in it is to look for a 6 on the bottom. The 6 represents polystyrene and are there to help recycling companies handle them appropriately and safely.
Good Replacements for Styrofoam
The good thing is that there are many good and feasible alternatives to styrofoam for food storage and consumption. Some of these items include reusable dishware, biodegradable dishware, and reusable #5 polypropylene containers.
Reusable dishware is self-explanatory: it is a dish that can be used repeatedly and is usually made out of harder plastic. These are commonly available at local grocery stores and furniture stores. Reusable dishes have a wide range of prices, styles, and sizes to choose from and they are the most commonly used replacement for styrofoam. The materials that these dishes are made of include glass, ceramic materials, or stainless steel. All of these materials have been deemed safe for use.
Most people have these kinds of dishes and have them in their homes. So, why is it so common to heat food from restaurants in the styrofoam containers they came home in? In my experience, I have found that I use styrofoam when I don’t want to do additional dishes, and it is easier to simply reheat food in the container it was stored in.
Reusable dishware needs to be washed in between uses, which can be a big pain if you don’t have a dishwasher. Luckily, there are other options.
Biodegradable dishware has many positives to it and can help satisfy the need for convenience and for time management. These are similar to styrofoam dishware because they can be thrown away or recycled. However, they are made of better materials for the environment, such as bamboo and other plant-based materials. This type of dishware hasn’t been connected to cancer or other health concerns. It is better for people to use and consume, especially since those materials break down easily and can be recycled with less waste.
#5 Polypropylene Containers
This is another good alternative to styrofoam use because it is a safer plastic. #5 polypropylene containers are made out of a lightweight resin material that breaks down easily when recycled. It also doesn’t contain styrene, which is the main proponent of the potential carcinogen. This kind of dishware is the best for restaurants to adopt because it is typically cheaper for bulk purchases. Consumers can tell if a container is made out of polypropylene if it has a number 5 at the bottom.
How to Tell if Styrofoam is Safe to Microwave
The quickest and simplest method for seeing if a styrofoam container is considered safe to microwave is to look for a label or symbol on the container. The FDA-approved materials will be marked. It is also a good idea to check the original packaging that the containers came in, as they will often have warnings written on them.
Microwave Tips and Tricks
There are many different tips and tricks when it comes to microwaves, dishes, and food safety. Here are 3 of the most important things to know.
Do Not Put Metal in the Microwave
Putting metal in the microwave is a bad idea due to the fact that it causes fires. It causes fires because microwaves send out waves of energy at a frequency that metal doesn’t absorb. The lack of absorption leads to a fire being created.
How to Best Avoid Microwave Messes
The best way to avoid microwave messes is to cover the food being heated up. Some safe materials that a person can use include parchment paper, wax paper, paper towels, or hand towels. All of these materials are made to withstand and be safe at higher temperatures than the microwave, so they are microwave safe. They also can catch splatters of sauce or oil.
How Long Can I Keep Microwave Safe Styrofoam Dishware?
A person can have and use reusable and microwave-safe styrofoam dishware until there are cracks, scratches, or other visible issues with the dish due to potential chemical leakage onto food.
Microwaves are fantastic for the busy, modern individual. However, styrofoam is something that needs to be tossed or recycled instead of thrown in the microwave.