Siu mei with rice in a foam takeout container
Siu mei with rice in a foam takeout container

A foam food container is a form of disposable food packaging for various foods and beverages, such as processed instant noodles, raw meat from supermarkets, ice cream from ice cream parlors, cooked food from delicatessens or food stalls, or beverages like "coffee to go". They are also commonly used to serve takeout food from restaurants, and are also available by request for diners who wish to take home the remainder of their meal. The foam is a good thermal insulator, making the container easy to carry as well as keeping the food at the temperature it had when filled into the container, whether hot or cold.

Construction and composition

Foam take-out containers are made from expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam, or another type of polystyrene foam, and produced by injecting the foam into a mold. They are usually white in color, although they may be printed or impressed with a company logo or other message.

EPS foam is sometimes incorrectly called Styrofoam as a generic term. Styrofoam is a trademark of The Dow Chemical Company for closed-cell extruded polystyrene (XPS) foam, used for thermal insulation and craft applications. By contrast, EPS foam is typically white and made of expanded polystyrene beads, and used for disposable coffee cups, coolers, or as cushioning material in packaging.[1]

Another trade name for EPS is thermacol, originated by BASF.


Khanom krok, Thai doughnuts with egg and coconut fillings in a foam container
Khanom krok, Thai doughnuts with egg and coconut fillings in a foam container

The different varieties of foam takeout containers may include:

Chinese cuisine

Foam containers are the most commonly used takeout box for Chinese cuisines in East and Southeast Asia. It is standard for Cantonese cuisine in Hong Kong and many parts of China and sometimes used overseas in various restaurants, particularly in the United States and Canada.

Environmental issues

Further information: Polystyrene § Environmental issues

Foam takeout containers entirely made out of polystyrene foam affect the environment as they do not biodegrade easily.[2] However, microbial degradation of styrene via methanogens has been investigated and confirmed, intermediate products being various organic substances and carbon dioxide.[3] Pseudomonas putida can also convert styrene oil into various biodegradable polyhydroxyalkanoates.[4][5] Some cities have banned the use of foam take-out containers, notably San Francisco,[6] Seattle[7] and Portland, Oregon.[8] In 2013, the mayor of New York City proposed banning foam food containers for both health and environmental reasons.[9] Implementation of this plan was put on hold while the ban was litigated by restaurant owners and polystyrene manufacturers. After three years of litigation, a judge ruled in favor of the city. In 2019, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a state-wide ban.[10]

Health issues

Further information: Polystyrene § Health

It is debated whether styrene may migrate into food which is stored in foam food containers for even a short time. Some researchers argue that polystyrene containers pose a health risk,[11][unreliable source?] while industry defenders argue that trace amounts of styrene are already naturally present in food.[12][13][unreliable source?] Styrene foam containers can melt if the food or liquid is of a sufficiently high temperature. Some containers have been tested and labelled for safe use in microwave ovens; although the absence of such labeling does not mean a container is unsafe for this use, caution should still be taken.[14]

Styrene is considered by both the EPA and IARC to be a possible carcinogen.[15][16] It poses a health risk to workers involved in the production of styrene and polystyrene items, and industries have a compliance program to deal with liabilities.[17][unreliable source?] Prolonged exposure to high amounts of styrene may affect the central nervous system, causing diseases like Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis.[18]

See also


  1. ^ Stevens, Laura (11 April 2014). "There's No Such Thing as a Styrofoam Cup". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  2. ^ "Polystyrene Foam Report". Earth Resource Foundation. Earth Resource Foundation. Archived from the original on 25 March 2013. Retrieved 20 March 2013.
  3. ^[bare URL PDF]
  4. ^ Roy, Robert (2006-03-07). "Immortal Polystyrene Foam Meets its Enemy". LiveScience. Retrieved 2018-04-16.
  5. ^ Ward, PG; Goff, M; Donner, M; Kaminsky, W; O'Connor, KE (2006). "A two step chemo-biotechnological conversion of polystyrene to a biodegradable thermoplastic". Environmental Science and Technology. 40 (7): 2433–7. Bibcode:2006EnST...40.2433W. doi:10.1021/es0517668. PMID 16649270.
  6. ^ "San Francisco Bans Styrofoam for To-Go Containers".
  7. ^ "Seattle Styrofoam Ban Leads to Packaging Changes". 2010-07-06. Retrieved 2018-04-16.
  8. ^ "City of Portland Garbage and Recycling Rules and Regulations". Retrieved 2018-04-16.
  9. ^ Grynbaum, Michael M. (February 13, 2013). "To Go: Plastic-Foam Containers, if the Mayor Gets His Way". New York Times. Retrieved 20 March 2013.
  10. ^ Ferré-Sadurní, Luis (23 December 2019). "New York State Moves to Ban Foam Food Container". New York Times. Retrieved 25 December 2019.
  11. ^ Grimm, Grace. "Plastics Not to Reuse". Green Living. National Geographic Society. Archived from the original on 1 January 2013. Retrieved 20 March 2013.
  12. ^ Styrene Occurrence in Food Archived 2004-09-25 at
  13. ^ karakas. "Answers to Common Questions About Styrene". Retrieved 2018-04-16.
  14. ^ "Microwaving food in plastic: Dangerous or not?" Archived 2015-01-07 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ "" (PDF). 2018-04-03. Retrieved 2018-04-16.
  16. ^ "". 2002-12-04. Retrieved 2018-04-16.
  17. ^ "Polystyrene Foam Report". Earth Resource Foundation. Archived from the original on 25 March 2013. Retrieved 18 August 2015.
  18. ^ Kolstad, Juel, Olsen, Lynge (May 1995). "Exposure to styrene and chronic health effects: mortality and incidence of solid cancers in the Danish reinforced plastics industry". Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 52 (5): 320–7. doi:10.1136/oem.52.5.320. PMC 1128224. PMID 7795754. Retrieved 18 August 2015.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)