Styrofoam in the Microwave


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We have all heard the claim that heating up food using a Styrofoam container is said to be cancer causing.  Although I typically do not follow this claim, I decided to look into what it was all about and ultimately base my decision of whether or not to continue to do so based on the information that I gathered.  People have always made claims about the dangers of microwaves so I wanted to find out if the Styrofoam issue was fact or fiction.  

 

In an article published by Harvard Medical School, they tackle the subject of dangerous microwave activities.  First of all, the article makes sure to point out that Styrofoam is a form of plastic so when discussion dangerous materials in a microwave, all forms of plastic are included.  I found this very important because some people view Styrofoam as a completely different material than plastic.  The most dangerous part of putting any type of plastic in the microwave is that the plastic is made up of plasticizers.  These plasticizers are known to cause harm to the body when they are heated to a high temperature and ultimately leak into the food that you are about to consume.

 

Although plasticizers can leak into the food and cause damage to the body, the containers that are used to package food in the United States are regulated by the FDA. In other words, there is really nothing to worry about.  According to the article,  "For microwave approval, the agency estimates the ratio of plastic surface area to food, how long the container is likely to be in the microwave, how often a person is likely to eat from the container, and how hot the food can be expected to get during microwaving."  This is very relevant to our class due to the amount of tests the plastics must go through in order to gain approval.  The FDA takes into account that the tests being done are on animals and, thus, they calculate the data as it would affect humans.

 

After the FDA runs the test, they determine whether or not the container is microwave safe or not and then the container is marked accordingly.  So, there are still risks involved when microwaving plastics because not all are microwave safe.  However, as we have discussed, humans have a horrible grasp on risk and I can't see a little containers holding us back from heating up food.  

 

With all of this said, it is something to think about next time you heat up food in your microwave.  However, if you are anything like me, this article had no effect on the ways in which I will heat up food because the risk is very slim.   

 

3 Comments

I don't trust the FDA very much. Their standards are questionable. Did you know that the FDA allows a certain amount of soil, glass, rust and fecal matter in a company's edible product before taking action? More on that can be found by following this link: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-20013038-10391704.html
Though I'm aware that I'm guilty of the logical fallacy of hasty generalization (their fecal standards are bad, so their canning standards must be bad), everything should be put on the table (pun intended). Even if it leaves a bad taste in your mouth (pun very much intended).

This is a very relevant post to many college students. I actually researched this before when me and my roommate were having a debate on weather it was alright to microwave our food in Styrofoam. What I found was that if possible try not to. Its much better to microwave in ceramics or a microwave safe plastic. But if you have no other option like most college students there are a few things you can do. Each Styrofoam product is labeled with a number categorized by its makeup. Certain numbers are more safe than others . You can microwave for about 30 seconds and that should be the length of that. Believe it or not there are many different kinds of Styrofoam .My personal advice is to avoid microwaving Styrofoam all together, because the long term effects can be very harmful. Doing it a few times in your life is no the end of the world but making it a habit can be very dangerous to find out more information check out this website.!http://www.ehow.com/about_5448504_dangers-microwaving-styrofoam-cup.html

My mom always yells at me because I constantly heat up food in plastic containers. After reading this I probably will not stop my ways with heating food up in plastic containers. Like you said, the risk is very little that anything will happen. I read an article that says there is really no definite answers if it is safe to microwave plastic containers. The ones that are marked as microwaveable are safe, but the ones that aren't do not have enough evidence to prove that they could possibly be harmful. Although recently a new idea is that it could be harmful towards babies and children because of the chemicals in plastic that can cause developmental effects. Again, not much is stated on this issue since they are looking further into this idea. Below is the link if you want to check it out.

http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/mixing-plastic-food-urban-legend?page=2

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