Can You Microwave Styrofoam? It’s Safer Than You Thought.
Can you microwave Styrofoam? Should you be worried?You just bought your favorite noodles on your way from work. You get to the house and practically run to the kitchen to eat them, but to your dismay, the noodles are cold. You literally run to your microwave, ready to pop them in, but then you suddenly have doubts. You look at the Styrofoam noodle cup and frown. Your common sense tells you to heat the food in your glass plate.
You hear a voice in your head asking, "Can you microwave Styrofoam? Is it really that safe?" This has happened to me several times and I bet it has happened to you too!
So Is It Safe?
It has never felt right to me to microwave Styrofoam or any other type of plastic for that matter. I have always assumed that it is not safe even though I was not sure why. This made me eager to find out if my concerns were valid, so let’s figure this out!
Does Microwaving Styrofoam Expose Food To Toxic Chemicals?
Most of us think Styrofoam is unsafe for microwaving because its main component is styrene, which we fear will leach into the microwaved food. Styrene is a very toxic chemical that has been confirmed by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) to be a potential carcinogen. It also causes headaches and depression, which sound so scary, right?
Fortunately, styrene does not leach into food while microwaving since it is in its more stable polymer form called polystyrene. Nevertheless, other chemicals can still leach out of the Styrofoam. These chemicals are mostly additives that are used to stabilize it. We are, however, not certain if these leeches of additives are high enough concentration to cause substantial harm to your health.
Furthermore, these days, manufacturers are actively avoiding using these additives to manufacture plastics. This is because studies have shown that these chemicals mimic human hormones leading to serious health problems.
How Does It Cope With High Temperatures?
A big problem is that at high temperatures Styrofoam begins to soften. This can happen even without it being put in the microwave. You have probably noticed your Styrofoam coffee cup softening due to the hot coffee inside, it haven’t you? It may even develop burn marks like the plate in this video.
If the temperature is increased, the Styrofoam will begin to melt and get all over your food. Trust me, you do not want it all over your noodles – it’s a sticky mess! So it is best to avoid very high temperatures when using a microwave.
This video shows clearly how Styrofoam plates behave when heated in a microwave.
What If You Accidentally Eat Styrofoam?
"So what happens when I eat Styrofoam? Will I get sick?" you may ask. First of all, it is highly unlikely that you will eat it in the first place. This is because Styrofoam, even in its molten state, is insoluble in water. All you will have to do is physically separate the Styrofoam from the food.
In case you do happen to eat some Styrofoam, worry not! A little piece of it will not harm you. You just have to wait for it to pass out of your system. A big piece of Styrofoam, however, might block your oesophagus, leading you to seek medical attention, but it is very unlikely that you will swallow such a big piece.
Modified Microwave- Safe Styrofoam
There is another type of Styrofoam that has been specially manufactured to make it safe for microwave use. This is something most people do not know. This type of Styrofoam solves all of the problems faced by the traditional type.
"How do you identify microwave- safe Styrofoam?" you may ask. Food containers that are safe to use in the microwave usually have a stamp at the bottom or on the side. The stamp consists of three wavy lines which symbolize radiation.
For any type of plastic to receive this stamp of approval, it needs to undergo several tests to ensure that any toxic chemicals that could leech into the food are in concentrations lower than 100 to 1000 times less than the dose considered harmful.
When In Doubt, Throw It Out!
You may feel uneasy using Styrofoam, even the modified one, in the microwave. If so, you should always remember you can put the food onto a plate made from paper, ceramics or glass before putting in the microwave.
You can even choose to use a container or plate made of a different type of plastic that you are sure is safe. There are a variety of microwave safe products in the market that you can choose from. Here is an example of a food container that is both microwave safe and freezer safe.
You can also decide to play it safe and use these plates which are made from tree leaves. They are biodegradable, have no artificial chemicals and are surprisingly microwave safe! Quite convenient, right?
If you prefer plates that look more like the Styrofoam ones, you can get these ones. They are also microwave safe and one hundred percent biodegradable while still maintaining their aesthetic value! They are also convenient and disposable, just like the plastic ones.
The Bottom Line
In conclusion, although we are completely certain that modified Styrofoam is safe for use in the microwave, the same cannot be said about traditional Styrofoam.Its tendency to melt under high temperatures makes it highly unpopular and even deemed dangerous. In order to ensure safe and convenient microwaving, it would be advisable to avoid using traditional Styrofoam in microwaves.
- When microwaving, you should only use Styrofoam or plastic which has been approved as microwave safe like this one.
- If you are forced to use Styrofoam in a microwave, do not heat the food for long periods of time to avoid softening or melting.