Undoubtedly, styrofoam is a common material for food packaging. Styrofoam is useful in most kitchenware items, ranging right from cups to plates and containers. It is quite lightweight and preserves cold food well. This is the reason why many restaurants and eateries deliver food in styrofoam containers. If you have some leftovers in a styrofoam container, you will obviously reheat it by directly putting that container in the oven. However, many people have been asking, “Can you put styrofoam in the oven? How safe is it to do so?”
Most of them think that it is safe to use this material in the oven as it is known to be microwave-safe. Instead of assuming so, it is wise to know whether styrofoam in the oven is safe or not. So, let’s find this out now for our safety!
So, Can You Put Styrofoam in the Oven?
The answer is no! You can use styrofoam containers to store food in the fridge, but they are just not safe for reheating food in the oven. Although most forms of styrofoam are microwave-safe, they are not oven-safe.
Oven temperatures differ from those of a microwave. If styrofoam is heated to a high temperature, like the one in the oven, it will begin to decompose and finally burn. This is likely to be hazardous to your health in a couple of ways:
Pure styrofoam is combustible, meaning it will trigger flames at a very high temperature. Styrofoam containers are not for cooking and are thin, due to which there is always a fire risk. To minimize this hazard by making the material more resistant to fire, some manufacturers include chemical additives. Still, it may not keep the risk of your household catching fire completely at bay without a fire extinguisher. As extinguishing fire in an oven is almost impossible, it is wise to take precautions.
At the time of burning, styrofoam in oven produces toxic smoke. Inhaling this smoke is harmful. It is common to see styrofoam becoming smoky while burning. As this smoke mixes with the air in your home, it makes breathing unsafe. However, do not be frightened if there is a styrofoam container in your oven to heat a delivered meal once. Scorching styrofoam once is not going to trigger any major harm to you or the environment.
It is a belief that polystyrene, when heated in the oven, releases harmful chemicals that mix with our food. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), polystyrene starts to decompose at around 200 degrees Celsius. At this temperature, the heating process releases its small trace amounts. Where it gets alarming is approximately 224 degrees Celsius at which polystyrene begins to break down.
What Is Styrofoam?
Before digging more into how styrofoam in an oven is unsafe, let’s understand what it consists of! Styrofoam, from the Down Chemical company, is a kind of expanded polystyrene made using polystyrene foam extrusion. In the United States, this material is a type of expanded polystyrene.
Well, there is a difference between these two types of polystyrene, which is essential for you to know. In the case of extruded polystyrene, the production process involves combining ingredients and melting them at once. In the case of expanded polystyrene, the molds having polystyrene beads pass through steam, heat, or insulation. As a result, they expand and cling together.
Now, let’s comprehend what polystyrene is. It is a strong plastic obtained from styrene and is useful in making a myriad of daily-use products. If the maker transforms it into foam, the plastic becomes more buoyant due to its cushioning properties. This form of polystyrene is the most valuable one.
You will find many white spheres on styrofoam upon closely observing it. These are the particles that expand to form an object such as a box or a cup. They are quite bigger than the styrofoam beads.
In practice, filling two-third of a tight metallic mold with these beads, boiling them for a couple of minutes, and cooling them results in a substantial expansion of the beads. The beads also expand if you put them in your microwave.
What Are the Consequences of Putting Styrofoam in Oven?
Putting styrofoam in your oven triggers the decomposition of this plastic. If you leave it unattended, the plastic will start melting to form a gluey, soft layer. It can even start burning, during which it may release some toxic and it may smell like a dead mouse. This is because styrene is an organic oily liquid.
These consequences only occur when the oven is sizzling. Although an ideal material for preserving food in a fridge, it is risky to use in the oven. This is because this plastic tends to melt in a hot oven and releases harmful chemicals in the air, which also mix with your food.
What Happens If You Eat Styrofoam?
The consequences of ingesting styrofoam are likely to be detrimental. A few potential consequences of eating heated polystyrene are headaches, eye and stomach irritation, and central nervous system dysfunction. Even hearing loss, fatigue, and clinical depression can occur.
It can even cause cancer. Styrene, which is a chemical in polystyrene, is the cause. Yes, it is a potential carcinogen. Polystyrene contains toxic chemicals namely, styrene and benzene. These chemicals have shown probable carcinogenic and neurotoxic properties.
These risks are yet to be proven completely. Thus, it is difficult to conclude whether heating typical styrofoam in oven releases sufficient amounts of chemicals to harm humans.
Does Styrofoam Melt? What Is the Melting Point of Styrofoam?
Yes, styrofoam melts at high temperatures! This is because it cannot survive high heat. The polystyrene beads begin softening even before the temperature reaches 212 degrees Fahrenheit. This is usually the softening point for these beads. It is also the water’s boiling point.
Styrofoam is nothing but polystyrene beads, which begin melting at 464 degrees Fahrenheit or 240 degrees Celsius. This melting temperature is quickly attained when polystyrene is put in the oven.
The highest possible safe temperature for this plastic is 175 degrees Fahrenheit after which it is susceptible to unfavorable changes. It is worth noticing that this plastic has no fixed melting point. This is because many manufacturers add extra chemicals to it. As a result, it is likely to survive temperatures higher than 240 degrees Celsius.
So, it is totally fine to heat styrofoam up to 175 degrees Fahrenheit. However, this is less likely to be achievable with any oven.
What Are the Styrofoam Alternatives?
- Oven-friendly Containers: There are a couple of materials using which oven-safe containers are made. These are glass, ceramic, and metals. Oven-safe glass dishes not only help in reheating your food but also act as serving plates too. Just avoid using containers having wooden or plastic inclusions. Even ceramic dishes are safe but you need to ensure that they are marked as oven-safe. When it comes to metals, stainless steel and cast-iron pans are safe for reheating food in your oven.
- Cookie Sheets: Flat pans such as cookie sheets work well in ovens to reheat your food safely. However, their use depends on the kind of food you wish to reheat. They are spacious enough to cook the food evenly in the oven.
- Aluminum Foils: You can use these foils as an additional layer for reheating messy recipes. These containers are commendable for their easier cleanup than pans after reheating in the oven. All you have to do is remove the foil from the oven-friendly pan and put it in the garbage bin.
Why Styrofoam Is Used If It Is Not Oven-Safe?
Seeking an answer to this question makes sense. Although not oven-safe, styrofoam containers are useful for packing and delivering food. Nevertheless, they are not for reheating the food in the oven. Following are the reasons why food makers prefer styrofoam for packing, delivering, and storing food:
- Styrofoam is light, which gives the benefits of effortless agility and movability. It is easy to carry its containers, due to which it is the top choice.
- Polystyrene is more economical than other packaging options. There are environment-friendly options such as biodegradable papers and bioplastics. However, they are not economical.
- Styrofoam provides the advantage of insulation. It has thermal insulation, which is ideal for sustaining the food at the desired temperature. This means there is no need to bother about regulating heat while delivering food.
Why Some Styrofoam is Microwave-Safe?
It is obvious to ask why styrofoam is safe to use in a microwave when it is a poor, risky option for use in any oven. Microwaves use a magnetron for cooking, which results in vibrating the food molecules, especially the water molecules. This generates heat. This heating process does not affect styrofoam in the same manner as other products. This is due to its chemical composition.
On the other hand, ovens tend to implement heating by smearing intense radiant heat through an electric heating coil. In the process, styrofoam gets the necessary heat. This will result in the melting and burning of this plastic, finally triggering safety risks and health issues.
This difference in the way heating occurs is the reason why this plastic is fine for reheating food in a microwave but not in any oven.
It is wise to always check that the styrofoam in use has a label specifying microwave safe. The good news is that most forms of this plastic now have this label. However, this does not mean that you should assume it and escape checking it before using styrofoam.
How to Find Out Whether Styrofoam Is Microwave Safe?
Conventional styrofoam containers are not for use in a microwave. This is because they are considered risky. Nevertheless, nowadays, you will find microwave-safe styrofoam kitchenware to ensure safer use.
Manufacturers make these styrofoam containers using safer ingredients. Thus, they do not emit toxic chemicals upon getting heated in a microwave. However, this does not mean that you should assume that all modern styrofoam containers are safe for use in a microwave.
It is essential to check the label that clearly states whether the container is microwave-friendly or not. There are some indicators to look for here. These are warm waves symbol, microwave-safe phrase, and micro word. This label is usually at the bottom of the container.
If any of these tags exist, you can use that container without any botheration. Although you can reheat these containers safely, it is wise not to keep them for long in a microwave. Consider limiting this time to 60 seconds in one spell.
When You Should Use Styrofoam Containers?
You can use styrofoam containers for storing cold or extra food. Just put the leftovers in one such container and keep it in the fridge. It is okay to use styrofoam cups for serving cold drinks but never use them serving anything hot.
You may have heard that styrofoam cups retain the hotness of any drink for a longer period than usual. However, they are not considered safe for serving hot liquids. Similarly, styrofoam containers are not for storing acidic, alcohol-based, or oily stuff. This is because they are likely to seep styrene into these foods easily.
Conclusion of Answering Whether Can You Put Styrofoam In The Oven
Styrofoam in oven is just not safe although you may feel like using its container in this electric device. This is because there is a high probability of it melting at around 464 degrees Fahrenheit and exploding if heated further. It is common to use an oven at this temperature. At such a high temperature, styrofoam can easily trigger smoke and emit harmful chemicals that finally mix with the food.
So, do a small favor to yourself, family, and pets by never putting styrofoam in the oven. Instead of styrofoam, consider using oven-safe containers, aluminum foils, or cookie sheets. These alternatives are safer to use in any oven.