Michael Tanguay

By: Michael Tanguay on September 25th, 2020

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Microwave Safe Containers: A Business’ Guide [VIDEO]

Takeout and delivery services have been a lifeline for many foodservice operations as we continue to deal with the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic. There seems to be no end in sight for the increasing popularity even as the economy begins to reopen in many areas.

We can assume takeout and delivery will remain the norm for the foreseeable future.

As a result, it will be imperative that you’re providing your guests with the same experience at home as they would receive in-house.

When your guests sit down to eat, they want their meal to look and taste great. They’ll also want it to be at the right temperature. However, sometimes as hard you try, it is just not possible to control whether your food products will be delivered on time and at the right temperature, or if your guests will choose to enjoy it as soon as they pick it up.

People love convenience and there’s nothing easier than being able to pop their meal into the microwave whether it’s for a few seconds or minutes to reheat it.

Microwave-safe containers allow your guests to quickly and easily reheat their meal at home without having to transfer containers, dirtying more dishes.

Take-out containers come in a variety of materials including, plastic, foam, aluminum, paper and more, but not all are heat tolerant or safe for use in the microwave. This often has people asking, “Is this container safe for the microwave?”

Many know that microwaving the wrong materials can lead to some serious issues. For example, microwaving certain plastics can cause them to melt and allow certain additives, like BPA, to leach into your foods and beverages.

There’s also the risk of microwave damage or fire if aluminum containers are put into the microwave.

With all of the possible dangers, it’s critical to the safety and satisfaction of your guests that you provide the right container.

In this article and video, we’ll review the most common types of food packaging that are safe for use in the microwave and which should never be put into the microwave.

Are takeout containers microwave safe?

In general, to be microwave safe, a product should have a temperature tolerance of at least 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

There are several different types of disposable takeout containers, and it can be hard to know which is safe. In some cases, there will be a symbol on the bottom of the container that denotes it is safe for use in the microwave.

If there is no symbol, and the container is plastic you can look for the resin code. There are seven resin codes, 1-7, and each number represents a different type of plastic.

Is it safe to microwave plastic?

Each type of plastic has its own temperature tolerance that will determine if it can be used in the microwave.

What containers are microwave safe?

  • Plastic #2 High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
  • Plastic #5 Polypropylene (PP)
  • Molded Fiber & Bagasse

Plastic #2 High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

Food Containers-3HDPE or high-density polyethylene is microwave safe. 

It has a tolerance of -40 to 266 degrees Fahrenheit before distortion.  

In the foodservice market, high density polyethylene is typically used for containers. 

Other benefits of High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE): 

  • Long lasting, extremely durable, and resistant to deterioration
  • Low risk of leaching
  • Safe to be reused

Disadvantages of High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE): 

  • May not be accepted at all recycle facilities

Plastic #5 Polypropylene (PP)

IPactiv Clear-Black 30oz Oblong 2 Compartment Containers number 5 plastic microwave safe? 

Polypropylene is microwave safe. It has a temperature tolerance of 0 to 250 degrees before distortion. 

It’s most commonly used for containers, plates, bowls, cutlery and catering trays. 

Other benefits of Polypropylene (PP): 

  • Durable and lightweight
  • Safe to be reused 

Disadvantages of Polypropylene (PP): 

  • May not be accepted at all recycling facilities

Molded Fiber & Bagasse

Molded Fiber Hinged ContainersThese materials are safe for use at temperatures up to 250 degrees, making them safe for use in the microwave. 

Molded fiber and bagasse are most commonly used for plates, bowls, and containers.

Other benefits of Molded Fiber & Bagasse: 

  • They’re both made using environmentally friendly manufacturing processes.
    • Bagasse is made from the leftover byproducts of the sugar or wheat extraction processes. 
    • Molded fiber is made from a blend of recycled paperboard, newsprint, and/or corrugated cardboard.

Disadvantages of Molded Fiber & Bagasse: 

  • Not recyclable 
  • Single Use
  • May contain PFAS

What containers are not microwave safe?

It's important to make note of some foodservice containers that should never go into the microwave.

  • Plastic #1 Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE)
  • Plastic #6 Polystyrene (PS)
  • Aluminum 
  • Paper Products

Plastic #1 Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE)

Inline Safe-T-Fresh PagodaWare 16oz Clamshell PET containerPlastic number 1 or PETE, is not microwave safe. 

It is the most commonly used plastic material but only has a temperature tolerance between 0 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit before the material will start to warp or melt. 

Benefits of Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE): 

  • Lightweight, smooth and shatter resistant
  • Easily recyclable

Disadvantages of Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE): 

  • Single Use

Plastic #6 Polystyrene (PS)

Is styrofoam microwave safe? Polystyrene, also known as Styrofoam™, is not safe for the microwave. 

Foam Container 1Styrofoam used to be one of the most common materials for takeout packaging and cups. However, in certain areas, recent regulations have banned the use of foam forcing operators to select other container materials. 

Benefits of Polystyrene (PS): 

  • Inexpensive 
  • Good heat insulation properties making it a good option to keep food warm during transport

Disadvantages of Polystyrene (PS): 

  • Single Use
  • Banned in many areas 
  • Can leach chemicals if not used properly

Aluminum

Pactiv 3 Compartment Oblong Aluminum ContainerAluminum, although great for the oven and high temperatures up to 400 degrees, should never be microwaved. 

If microwaved, it can cause damage to your microwave and injury to the operator. 

Aluminum is generally used for take out containers and trays. 

Benefits of aluminum: 

  • Oven & freezer safe 
  • Recyclable

Disadvantages of Aluminum: 

  • Can cause injury if not used properly

Paper Products

Earthchoice PLA Coated Soup Container-1Finally, paper products are not typically microwave safe.

They can be coated, sealed, or glued and when heated could cause these additives to leach into your food.

The most common uses of paper includes takeout containers, cups, plates and bowls.

Benefits of paper foodservice containers:

  • Good heat insulation

Disadvantages of paper foodservice containers:

  • May not be recyclable or compostable

Final Thoughts

Selecting the right to-go container is key. It is important that the container you’re packaging your to-go foods in can be microwaved so your guests can easily reheat their meal at home, if needed.

Keep in mind temperature tolerance and product usage guidelines will vary by manufacturer.

If you are not sure if the container you are currently packaging your food in is microwave safe, check the product to see if it is labeled, "microwave safe," or if the package contains an image of a microwave. Remember, not all products will state whether they are microwave safe. If this is the case, check with your supplier.

In general, paper products, aluminium, polyethylene terephthalate (PETE), and polystyrene (PS) should never be used in the microwave. On the other hand, high-density polyethylene (HDPE), polypropylene (PP), and molded fiber & bagasse are typically safe to be microwaved.

To help you better understand the temperature tolerance of certain foodservice containers, we put together a quick one-page reference guide. It details several different types of container materials, their temperature tolerance, and whether they can be used in the microwave, oven, or be put into the freezer. 

Download Your Free Microwave Safe Containers Guide

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About Michael Tanguay

Michael Tanguay is a Sales Representative for EBP Supply Solutions, with over 25 years of experience in helping customers tackle their foodservice packaging and commercial cleaning challenges. Since 2012, he has specialized in sustainable foodservice packaging alternatives to help customers increase their food and beverage sales while being more environmentally conscious, and customizing cleaning and sanitation programs using green cleaning products to help lessen their company’s environmental footprint.