Can you microwave Chinese takeout boxes? (Safety Risk)

Here’s a quick riddle for you, what is the most identifying feature in pop culture that someone is eating Chinese food? You are correct if you answered those trademark white boxes with the folding flaps.

Commonly known as “Oyster pails” those white cardboard boxes have become the pinnacle of takeout cuisine. And with good reason, they serve their purpose extremely well and are easy to tote around as well.

One of the best features that I like about these boxes is that they can be converted into makeshift plates. This means that for a busy person like me and I’m sure many others no more washing pots and pans, and cleaning up plates after you are done eating.

While the design of the boxes solves the problem of requiring plates for eating, what about when you want to reheat your Chinese food? Do you place the entire paper box in the microwave? And watch it burn to smithereens, or does it come out ok with the food piping hot and ready to be eaten? So many questions, which is why this is exactly what we will be discussing in detail in this article.

Can you microwave Chinese takeout boxes?

Well, this is a tricky domain. The answer would depend on what kind of material these Chinese takeout boxes are made of.

Yes, Chinese takeout comes in several kinds of packaging besides the commonly seen “Oyster pails”.

  • If the containers are made of white pure cardboard then yes, they are microwavable.
  • If these cardboard containers have any ink printing, metal handles or staples, or wax linings inside then no, they are not safe to be microwaved.
  • If your go-to restaurant serves takeout in that styrofoam clamshell-type boxes or plastic containers with lids like for soup then, no, they can’t be microwaved either.

How to microwave paper and cardboard Chinese takeout boxes?

Yes, cardboard and paper-based takeout boxes are safe (under certain conditions) to be microwaved when they contain food in them.

However, don’t attempt to put empty cardboard boxes in the microwave as they can fire.

To microwave Chinese in paper boxes, all you need to do is:

  1. Open up your box and transform it into a makeshift plate for your food.
  2. Cover your food with a damp paper towel or a microwave-safe plate to prevent splattering.
  3. Microwave on high for 1 minute, make sure to keep an eye on the paper/ cardboard while it’s in the microwave to make sure it doesn’t overheat and catch fire (while the possibility is slim when microwaving with food it is better to be cautious)
  4. Carefully take the cardboard box out, as it may be hot and you are ready to enjoy your food.

Why can’t you put any other cardboard or styrofoam takeout boxes in the microwave?

Any other kind of takeout packaging, if it wax/foil-lined cardboard, styrofoam, or even plastic is not considered safe for use in the microwave for many reasons.

  1. The wax layer may melt when heated in the microwave and mix in with your food making it hazardous to your health.
  2. Foil-lined cardboard may create sparks in the microwave and possibly damage it. Foil containers on their own are also not advised to be used in microwaves.
  3. Metal handles and staples used in paper or cardboard boxes can also create parks inside the microwave. If you see that there is no waxy lining in your paper/cardboard box and those metal tidbits can be easily removed then that paper box can be used.
  4. Boxes that contain printing in ink or are joined together with glue are also not deemed safe for microwave reheating. Heating may cause the glue or ink to melt and mix in with your food.
  5. Styrofoam and plastic can leach their chemicals into the food when it’s microwaved.

For your safety and peace of mind, always check for signs and labels that are printed by the manufacturer to determine if a takeout box can be used safely in the microwave.

How to tell if a Chinese food container is microwave safe?

Before you start to microwave food on any kind of paper or cardboard container. I would suggest you look for any kind of symbols or markings on the takeout boxes to determine manufacturers’ recommendations and if it is indeed food safe to go into the microwave.

So what does this microwave-safe symbol look like?

  • If your container shows 2-3 squiggly lines, then this indicates that it is safe for microwave use. Some manufacturers have modified this symbol to show an actual microwave with squiggly lines.
  • Some manufacturers prefer writing instead of symbols. Usually, you can find an embossed “Microwave-safe ” label on the bottom of your container.
  • Although, if you see that the squiggly lines are contained within a circle with a line crossing it out, then it means that these containers aren’t microwave-safe
  • You may however sometimes come across containers that don’t show any kind of markings that determine whether it’s microwave-safe or not. How do you handle those? My go-to rule of thumb is “Ïf it’s not marked, don’t park”  (i.e. don’t put anything that you’re not sure of in the microwave, because it might not have been tested to check its compatibility)

What is the best way to heat leftover Chinese food?

So what is one supposed to do in the eventful situation that your favorite Chinese place uses takeout containers that aren’t microwave-safe? Do you stop ordering from there and find a new shop? Definitely not!

So what if you can’t put the entire container as is in the microwave now, you always have the option to:

  • Transfer your food to a microwave-safe dish and then heat it in the microwave.
  • Or you could use a metal pan and heat it on a stovetop.

Yes, I understand that means you will have to clean up a few extra dishes and pots, but hey on the bright side you will get to enjoy your favorite food.

Bonus Tip

Place a small cup filled with water when you microwave leftover rice in the microwave. It will create steam that will fluff up the rice nicely while reheating.

FAQ

Where does the unique shape of the container come from?

The design of the foldable paper containers is modeled after the wooden oyster-carrying pails used by the Chinese in the 19th century.

What’s so special about the design of this box that made it so popular?

Convenience. Also, did you know that the entire paper takeout box is constructed using just one piece of paper? And what’s more, it can be opened up into a makeshift plate, hence the convenience of not needing separate utensils for eating and no more cleaning up after eating.

Are paper/cardboard boxes better than styrofoam or plastic containers?

Yes, they are. In terms of being environmentally friendly, paper and cardboard boxes can be recycled and are biodegradable as well. Compared to plastic and styrofoam, which is not recyclable at all, they are a better alternative. Also, only certain types of plastic can be recycled so it has a lasting carbon footprint as well.

However not all paper containers are recyclable. Ones that have wax-lined insides may have some problems being recycled. If your Chinese takeout is served in plastic containers that may or may not be recycled commercially, you can wash and reuse them.

Can you microwave paper takeout boxes?

Yes, you can microwave paper takeout boxes, but only if they are plain paper without any wax or plastic lining. If you’re unsure, it’s best to transfer your food to a different dish before microwaving.

You may also check if there is a microwave-safe symbol on the box, which would signify that it is safe to microwave.

If your container shows two to three squiggly lines, then this indicates that it is safe for microwave use. Some manufacturers have modified this symbol to show an actual microwave with squiggly lines.

Can you microwave plastic takeout containers?

No, you shouldn’t microwave plastic to-go containers because they can release harmful chemicals into your food when heated. In this case, even if you see a microwave symbol on the container it’s best to avoid microwaving it.

Can you heat up chinese takeaway containers?

Yes, you can heat up Chinese takeaway containers as long as they are made of ceramic, have a waxy finish, or even if it’s glass. Keep in mind that you’ll need to be careful with plastic containers as they can leach harmfum chemicals into your food. And even if they say they are microwave safe it only means that it can withstand the heat for a short period of time and not that it leach chemicals into your food.

Can you microwave black plastic containers?

No, you shouldn’t microwave black plastic containers. Black plastics often times may leach harmful chemicals into your food. If you’re unsure, it’s best to transfer your food to a different dish before microwaving.

Conclusion

Chinese is quite a popular takeout food option.  And what makes it more appealing is that it comes with its makeshift serving option in terms of the paper boxes.

However, no two takeout containers are created alike. Some may be made of paper while others may have some metal parts and wax linings to them.

To determine if they are safe to be used in the microwave, always turn and learn. If a container has a microwave-safe symbol on it then you are good to go. If it doesn’t then don’t risk your health, your microwave, and a potential fire hazard by placing something in there that’s not meant to go in it.

Up Next: Can you Microwave Wax Paper?