A microwave is a convenient way of heating or cooking certain foods. Cup noodles are one of the tasty and easiest foods to prepare, which is why they are common with students or young adults.
But is it safe to prepare cup noodles packaged in styrofoam using a microwave?
No. It’s not safe to microwave styrofoam. As stated by the National Library of Medicine, styrene, a component used to manufacture styrofoam, plastic, polyesters, rubber, and other products, is linked to cancer. Thus, heating styrofoam containers cause its components to leak into the food, exposing you to cancer and many other health risks.
Therefore, if any food is packaged in a styrofoam product or any other material made using polystyrene, microwaving it should be an option. Rather, you should find a proper way to prepare it and avoid exposing your health concerns.
In this article, you’ll explore styrofoam, its risks to your health, and how to stay safe while handling it. Stick around.
What is Styrofoam?
Styrofoam is a component used in the manufacture of polystyrene and plastic. It’s made out of styrene, a petroleum-based component.
Styrofoam is made through polymerization, where styrene is purified to form polystyrene, after which a hydrofluorocarbon agent is added and subjected to pressure. It’s then given time to expand until it forms a foam board.
Polystyrene is commonly used to manufacture food containers. It’s easy-to-make feature has seen them gain popularity recently. Also, the material is known to possess a high insulation property, keeping food warm for longer.
Is It Safe To Microwave Styrofoam Take Out Boxes?
Even though microwave food heating is the most efficient method of warming or cooking your food, not all materials are recommended for use with the appliance.
Thus, when using it, you should check the safety instructions of the containers you use.
Most of the take-out food containers are made of styrofoam. Many of these containers have a label showing you should not microwave food in them, although we often overlook these instructions.
Styrofoam has a low melting point and is likely to melt before your food becomes warm. In its melted state, the material releases risky chemicals for human health. Therefore, it’s safer if you would transfer your food into a microwave-safe container before heating.
Although some takeaway food containers are safe to use while microwaving, ensure you don’t overheat the container. Regardless of its safety approval, you should note that styrofoam has a relatively low melting point, and you might need to avoid microwaving food in such containers at all costs.
Does Styrofoam Leach Into Food?
With food industries widely using styrofoam containers to package their food, you might be concerned about your health while eating from such containers! It would help if you determined whether its chemical components can find their way into your food.
The straight answer is yes; styrene in the containers will leach into food when subjected to high temperatures. As I said earlier, all styrofoams are made of styrene. At high temperatures, the component melts and releases chemicals into the food. Thus, the material is not safe to use with warm food.
Also, the compound leaches toxins when it comes into contact with fatty, acidic, or alcoholic foods.
How Toxic Is Melted Styrofoam?
In its solid form, styrofoam is not harmful and thus safe for food packaging. Anyway, when the compound comes in contact with heat, it melts and releases, among other chemicals, styrene, which is the most worrying health wise.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency US, styrene is associated with many health hazards, some of which are cancerous and others are not.
Some non-cancerous effects include respiratory conditions, internal organs tumors, and many more.
On cancer risk, some epidemiologic studies have pointed out a strong association between styrene and certain types of cancer, like lymphoma and leukemia.
Even though there has not been sufficient research, most of the existing ones indicate that melted styrofoam is a health risk factor that you need to keep away from as much as possible to avoid certain complications.
Why Is It Not Recommended To Use Styrofoam Cups and Plates for Microwaving?
As mentioned above, subjecting styrofoam to high temperatures is not advisable. Why? At high temperatures, styrene used in the manufacture of styrofoam containers is released and can leach into your noodles, making it unsafe for consumption.
Also, you can inhale the chemical causing hazardous effects on your respiratory system. Therefore, if you buy food packaged in styrofoam containers, you should transfer it to a microwave-friendly plate before heating it.
What Happens if I Eat Food Microwaved in Styrofoam?
Even though it has not been entirely determined, some research bodies, such as IARC(the International Agency for Research on Cancer) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), among others, have cautioned that styrene is a possible human carcinogen.
Consumption of styrene, the most worrying substance released when you heat a styrofoam container, might not kill you immediately. Still, regular exposure may lead to build-up, which can cause serious health problems.
Several epidemiologic studies reveal that people working in styrene industries have a higher risk of the central nervous system, including frequent headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and confusion.
In the same way, regular consumption of food microwaved in styrofoam will lead to the build-up of chemicals and might later cause unappealing health conditions.
Is It OK To Microwave Styrofoam Ramen
Instant noodles or ramen are usually packaged in styrofoam. In most cases, different cases indicate that they do this for the ramen to retain heat longer and that you should not microwave it.
For health reasons, you should not microwave ramen noodles in styrofoam containers. Even though some of the containers are labeled microwave safe, it’s advisable to transfer your ramen to a microwave-safe plate before heating it in a microwave.
Is Styrofoam Safe for Hot Food?
No. Styrofoam is not safe for hot, acidic, or fatty food. The main concern about styrofoam containers is their release of unhealthy, harmful chemicals like styrene, flagged as a possible human carcinogen.
To ensure you’re not ingesting these components, heat or microwave your food from microwave-safe bowls. Also, serve and eat your food in separate container like recommended ceramic or glass bowls.
Which Styrofoam Is Safe To Microwave?
There are not many options for you as a consumer to determine whether a styrofoam container is safe for microwaving or not. The only available resource to find this out is the label on the container!
If the label says the container is safe for microwaving, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved it to be used in the microwave, and you can use it.
Is Ingesting Styrofoam Toxic?
Yes. Styrofoam is made of a chemical substance called styrene. In its solid form, styrofoam is considered safe for food. However, when heated, it releases styrene and other toxic chemicals which are not safe for human health.
Even though exposure to these chemicals may not be harmful immediately, frequent exposure is associated with certain types of cancer.
Also, there are other conditions like respiratory system, digestion system blockage, and central nervous system complications like headaches, dizziness, confusion, and many more.
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How Long Can You Put Styrofoam in the Microwave?
The melting point of styrene is relatively low; 350°F or 175° C. If the container has the FDA-approved label for use in the microwave oven, you should ensure not to overheat it.
Also, ensure you use low heat because even if the material is safe, at some point, the plastic will have to melt, making it not hundred percent safe.
The other thing you should avoid is reheating food in a styrofoam container. Heating once is not safe enough; what about reheating it? Avoid this practice.
Generally, the answer depends on factors such as the power level of our microwave and the material of the container you’re using. However, if you can, avoid microwaving food in styrofoam containers.