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Even the best microwaves are a bit of a mystery. What can you really put in them?
One question we frequently hear about microwaves is: “is it safe to microwave styrofoam? Does styrofoam melt in the microwave, or is it okay?” Since this is a fairly important health issue, we decided to talk about it with a little more detail. Whether you have the Kenmore 7212 Countertop Microwave – Editor’s Choice/Best Mainstream Model or another model, we have the answer.
When people say “styrofoam” they usually mean any of the foam-like, lightweight products used to temporarily hold food and drink: pretty simple, right? But the facts are a bit more complicated. There are two general types of styrofoam out there, with an important difference.
The first type is traditional styrofoam, which is a product name for products made out of polystyrene. Polystyrene is a plastic product that’s made from, among other things, styrene and benzene, which are bad news compounds. Tests have shown that in high levels these compounds are carcinogenic (can cause cancer), can damage reproductive systems, and have a number of other unpleasant qualities. In other words, you don’t want any them in your body, especially from any manufactured products.
The problem is that styrofoam doesn’t react very well to heat. High or prolonged heat causes the material to break and melt, which in turn leeches styrene and benzene into foods. The last thing you want to do is put styrofoam in the microwave, or burning it at all. Styrofoam at normal temperatures has been certified as fine to come in contact with foods, but microwaving styrofoam will leech out dangerous chemicals.
The second type of styrofoam isn’t technically the traditional version that we know, but rather a similar product made using different, safer materials, or lower levels of dangerous compounds. It may still be called styrofoam (and look like the same product in some cases), but the ingredients are different from the traditional version, and designed specifically to withstand heat more effectively.
Is this newer version of styrofoam microwave safe? Yes – for the most part. The FDA requires extensive tests for these materials to make sure that any chemical leeching meets safety levels for a lifetime of use. If material tests pass the FDA review, they will have a notification on the material that it can be used in a microwave. If you’re wondering how to tell if styrofoam is microwave safe, simply look at the bottom or sides of the product for any sign, warning, or notification.
When it doubt, throw it out. Don’t microwave styrofoam materials unless you see a sign that they can be microwaved. If there is any sign that the material is melting or breaking down, throw it and the food out rather than take the chance! If you’re looking for a great new microwave, remember to check out our microwave news and reviews as well!
I’ve been microwaving my coffee cups for over 5 years at approx 7 cups a day. I’m 45 and so far cancer free!
Great article and information. However, I have a question. We have been ordering food daily for the past 3 weeks. The container is made up of styrofoam. We didn’t realize the affects earlier, but after reading this article I checked and found #6 written under it. We’ve been putting these containers in the microwave for 3 mins and when we take it out, we see some swelling in the cups/boxes.
Are we safe? How do we know if this hasn’t led to anything serious? I don’t feel sick but what are the various ways to check if I am alright (and the chemicals have not affected me). I would stop microwaving them from today.
Hey SK, personally I’d avoid it. I tend to only put ceramic and glass in the microwave. And to be honest, I mostly stick to ceramic since it’s generally safe. Is there any way for you to transfer the food to a plate or another container? But sounds like you’re already doing it That said, how long have you been microwaving styrofoam?
I like the microwave combination oven , toaster and broilerall in one microwave. They are so versatile and convenient.