A common question that arises, especially in an age where take out and delivery have become more and more popular is can you put styrofoam in the oven? It might be tempting to reheat some leftovers or takeout food in your oven but if that food is in a styrofoam container, but is this a safe option?
You may think that since styrofoam is known to be relatively microwave safe, that it would be oven safe as well. The most important thing to know is whether or not this is dangerous, so let’s figure out if styrofoam is safe in the oven before attempting it.
Is It Safe to Put Styrofoam in the Oven?
Even though most styrofoam is safe in the microwave, it is not safe to put styrofoam in the oven. Styrofoam has a melt temperature right around 400 degrees F and it can reach those temperatures very quickly if put into a heating oven. Styrofoam is also highly flammable, so you should avoid putting styrofoam into the oven at all.
If styrofoam is heated to a high enough temperature, like the temperatures found in your oven, it will begin to melt and eventually burn. This can be dangerous to your health in various ways.
First, styrofoam gets very smoky when it burns and that smoke is known to be toxic. You do not want to be breathing any air that has burning styrofoam in it or near it. This can cause the air in your house to become unsafe.
Secondly, it is a fire hazard. If the styrofoam catches fire it can become a huge problem for your house and your kitchen. Putting out a fire in an oven without the immediate use of a fire extinguisher can be almost impossible.
What Is the Purpose of Styrofoam Packaging for Food?
If the styrofoam containers that food often comes in isn’t safe to put in the oven, why is it usually used? There are a few reasons that keep styrofoam as the leader for restaurant and food containers.
The material, Polystyrene, is much cheaper than the other alternatives for packaging. Other options are less toxic for the environment such as biodegradable paper, bioplastics, or recycled aluminum. But, the cost of these materials makes it not worth it for most delivery services.
Styrofoam has some useful benefits like insulation. The foam has good thermal insulation which helps keep your food at the correct temperature. You won’t have to worry about hot food getting cold or your cold food warming up while it’s being transported.
Another benefit that you’ve probably realized before is how easy the containers are to carry. Styrofoam is very light and holds the containers shape very well. So that makes it a great option for moving food around from a restaurant to home.
Microwave Safe vs Oven Safe Styrofoam
If styrofoam behaves so poorly in the oven, why is it microwave safe? Microwaves use a method of cooking that uses a magnetron to cause the molecules in your food, mostly the water molecules, to vibrate generating heat. The chemical composition of styrofoam makes it so this heating process does not affect it in the same way as other things.
Ovens use general heating by applying intense, radiant heat to objects via an electric heating coil. This will apply the necessary heat to the styrofoam that will cause it to burn and melt which will cause the safety and health issues we previously discussed.
Even then, you should always check to make sure that the styrofoam is labeled as microwave safe. Most of them now days are, but always double-check before heating any styrofoam.
This difference in heating methods is key and that is why styrofoam can be reheated in a microwave but never, ever in the oven.
Do yourself a favor, keep your home safe, keep you and your family safe, and keep your pets safe by not, ever, putting styrofoam in the oven. It can be a huge fire risk, it can cause toxic smoke to fill your home and it can leave you with a huge headache if you accidentally end up melting or burning styrofoam in your home.
What to Use for Baking in the Oven Instead of Styrofoam
We’ve now determined that it’s not safe to use styrofoam in the oven, so here are some good alternatives to use in the oven.
1. Oven-Safe Container
Even though styrofoam isn’t safe in the oven, there are many options for oven-safe containers. If you inspect your containers for the label, it should be easy enough to transfer your food to this container before placing it in the oven.
2. On a Cookie Sheet
Depending on the type of food that you are reheating, any flat pan such as a cookie sheet would work great. They provide a lot of space which can help the food cook evenly while in the oven.
3. On Aluminum Foil
Aluminum foil makes for an easy clean up on your pans after using them in the oven. You can use it as an extra layer for your pans when heating up messy foods. Simply remove the aluminum foil from whatever oven-safe pan you use, and throw it away.
Although it might seem easier to use your styrofoam container in the oven, it’s not safe to put styrofoam in the oven. Styrofoam is flammable and has a melt temperature around 400 degrees F which it could reach quickly in the oven.
Instead of going for the quicker option, items like oven-safe containers or cookie sheets are much safer for you to use while baking. Styrofoam containers are great for holding and transporting food, but not a safe option for using in the oven!