Can You Microwave Chinese Takeout Boxes? (Microwave Safety Tips)
Nothing beats ordering Chinese takeout when you’re hungry and don’t have time or means to cook. But sometimes it arrives cold, and you need to warm it a little. If you were wondering whether you can microwave Chinese takeout boxes, it depends on the box’s material.
Types of takeout containers typically used by Chinese food restaurants include Styrofoam, paperboard, and white cardboard, also known as oyster paper. While some are not microwave safe, you can microwave others.
Let’s examine the characteristics of Chinese takeout boxes, so you’ll know how to tell which is microwave safe and which one isn’t.
How to Check If Chinese Takeout Box Is Microwavable
Chinese takeout from pop-up restaurants has brought Asian cuisine to new levels around the country and worldwide. It’s an authentic fusion of sweet, sour, and salty that incorporates oriental ingredients, intense condiments, and expertly crafted recipes.
That often means your takeout will also come in containers made by manufacturers in China or another Asian country. Since these aren’t everyday American products, you may find non-English labels that are in another language, making it hard if you’re looking for microwave safety instructions.
One aspect of food features and recycling standards is that they’re international, meaning that even Chinese restaurants or food and beverage providers must comply. So, for example, whether manufactured outside the country or not, you should only microwave Chinese takeout boxes that are clearly and suitably marked.
When no text, lines, or icons appear at the bottom of the Chinese takeout box, treat it as not microwave safe, and don’t use it to reheat your food. Also, if you see wavy lines enclosed by a slashed circle, you shouldn’t use that container in the microwave.
What Determines Whether Chinese Takeout Boxes Are Microwave-Safe?
There are several types of Chinese takeout boxes that you’ll come across in most establishments, but the main four include paperboard, Kraft, corrugated, or cardboard oyster pails. Some are robust enough to offer support against food spoilage and leakage, while others are sustainable and durable.
Depending on the packaging or your Chinese takeout, you can safely put it in the microwave to reheat your food, but there are guidelines to consider. On the other hand, Styrofoam isn’t microwave safe since it melts when heated, and you must confirm that plastic has the microwave-safe label.
For instance, if your cardboard or paperboard container has a glossy plastic layer for greasy foods and sauces, it may not be BPA-free. While the plastic may contaminate your food while reheating it in the microwave, it could also melt or catch fire due to the oven’s high temperature.
Another aspect to look for is metallic elements in the container, such as aluminum handles, rim clamps, or staples, which will cause sparks in reaction to the microwave’s radiation. Wax and inks used in Chinese takeout boxes may melt and emit toxic fumes or leach into your food, posing health risks.
Furthermore, Chinese takeout boxes that aren’t microwave safe may have glues that will become undone due to the microwave’s heat. Not only will the container become undone and cause a mess, but the adhesive may also contaminate your food and lead to health consequences.
Why Shouldn’t You Microwave Chinese Takeout Boxes You Think Aren’t BPA-Free?
Some Chinese takeout containers are made with white paperboard and contain no glue, metal, or inks, making them safe to microwave food. But others, especially the cardboard pails that feature designs, have single-use plastic, wax, and ink, which become compromised by the heat of your oven.
Some are glued instead of folded and have staples and other metallic attributes, which can affect the oven and your safety. For many single-use containers, whether plastic or Styrofoam, their manufacturing processes use chemicals called Bisphenol A or BPA and phthalates. These hardeners or stabilizers give plastics durability and flexibility but are toxic to humans.
The heat of microwaving such a container releases these chemicals through leaching into your food, and studies have shown that they lead to various health concerns. Conditions that may arise from contamination by BPA and phthalates include obesity, diabetes, harm to a child’s mental and reproductive health, and hormonal imbalance.
Ensure a Chinese takeout container is microwavable before using it in the oven by checking the underside for regulation food standards markings. For example, you may find some waxed and plastic-coated paperboard, such as the oyster pails, labeled as microwave safe because the wax won’t melt and the plastic is BPA-free.
Can I Test My Chinese Takeout Box to Ensure Its Microwave Safe?
Many Chinese takeout boxes aren’t made in America but in Asia, where the manufacturers test and prove their safety before shipping them into the country. The US Food and Drug Administration, FDA, and other food or public health agencies do their best to comply with standard regulations.
However, you’ll find some containers that don’t feature the required signage to indicate whether they’re microwave-safe, but that doesn’t mean they’re unsafe. That only means the manufacturer has yet to test or formulate them specifically for microwaving. So, while it’s best to err on the cautious side, you can test to see if they’re microwavable.
Testing a cardboard or paperboard Chinese takeout box involves boiling water and putting it into a mug or container. Place the cup on the box’s side for a minute or two before removing it to touch the temperature on the takeout box. If it’s cooler than the hot water mug, the container is microwavable, but if it’s not, it means not enough heat can pass through, and therefore it’s unsafe.
That’s because microwavable containers, even thick glass, ceramic, or BPA-free plastics, allow microwave radiation to pass through without heating up considerably. If a cardboard or paperboard Chinese takeout container isn’t permeable enough for these rays, it may heat up and combust inside the oven.
How Do You Safely Microwave Chinese Takeout Boxes? (Microwave Safety Tips)
Under certain conditions, cardboard and paperboard Chinese takeout containers are safe to microwave to reheat the food within. However, avoid placing empty boxes in the oven as they may catch fire, especially if the material has low moisture equilibrium.
To reheat Chinese food, transfer it to a microwave-safe glass, ceramic, or BPA-free plastic container. That’s because the heat may affect the structural integrity of a takeout box, causing spills or burns when you’re taking it out of the oven.
Another way to reheat takeout food is by draining the gravy and adding a small amount of thickener, wine, oil, and soy sauce. Use tapioca starch, cornstarch paste, or wheat flour for thickening, and heat the mixture in a pan on medium heat until it boils.
Add the rest of the Chinese food into the pan and stir fry until hot, then pour in the thickener before serving. For the rice, use a microwave-safe bowl with a little water, and once you’ve covered it with a wet paper towel, reheat it on high for two to three minutes at 165°F.
Chinese takeout boxes contain food when you order or take away leftovers after visiting such a restaurant, often intricately designed with folding flaps. These containers are the pinnacle of oriental cuisine, are easy to carry, and serve their purpose for meal delivery well.
Several Chinese takeout containers are microwavable, while others, especially those containing inks, glues, metal, or single-use plastic linings, aren’t.
Featured Image Credit: Brent Hofacker, Shutterstock