Risk at a Glance

Using Styrofoam Containers Safely


There are days when you go to a food stall to do takeaway for food as a quick meal option. As you watch the stallholder fill up the styrofoam containers with the food that you ordered, you may wonder if storing food in such containers is safe.

In this article, we will share some tips on how we can use styrofoam containers safely.

What is styrofoam?

Styrofoam is made by incorporating air into polystyrene (a plastic comprising of small molecules called styrene monomer). Although polystyrene plastic can soften and melt under high temperatures, the incorporation of air gives styrofoam containers good thermal insulation properties. Styrofoam has therefore been commonly used in packaging, insulation, and disposable food containers. 

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Is styrofoam food packaging safe to store food?

Independent scientific bodies, such as the Joint Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and World Health Organisation Expert Committee on Food, have conducted studies on styrofoam. They have concluded that when styrofoam containers are used appropriately, oral exposure to residual styrene monomers does not result in any adverse health effects.

What is SFA doing to ensure food safety?

Like all food contact articles that are imported, used or sold in Singapore, harmful substances should not migrate into food from styrofoam food containers. The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) tests styrofoam food containers regularly to ensure that harmful substances do not migrate into food. This is similar to the approach taken by the US Food and Drug Administration for styrene-based food packaging materials. So far, test results indicate that styrofoam containers are safe when used appropriately.

Food handlers, including hawkers, are taught the proper use of styrofoam containers in the WSQ Food Safety Course Level 1. This is a course which we require all food handlers to attend and pass.

Here are some tips for the proper use of styrofoam:

  • Styrofoam is made from polystyrene plastic which can soften and melt under high temperatures, and it is not suitable for holding food over 100oC (for example deep frying). For holding foods over 100oC, use containers with good heat resistance such as polypropylene (PP).
  • Boiling hot or hot oily foods should be cooled slightly before placing them in styrofoam containers.
  • Excess oil from fried foods should be drained before placing them in styrofoam containers.
  • Styrofoam is not microwaveable. If you have to use the microwave oven for cooking or reheating, we advise you to only use plastic containers labelled as microwave-safe. You can pick up more tips on using plastic food packaging and containers safely on SFA’s website.

About the author

Soon Fang Min is a Scientist from the Risk Assessment and Communications Department of the National Centre for Food Science. She has attained a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Food Science and Technology from the National University of Singapore.