Think Twice Before You Reheat Chinese Leftovers In The Containers

Takeout dinners are like manna from heaven at the end of a long, stressful day. Ditto for a nice, relaxing, sit-down restaurant meal. You appreciate the hard work and expertise of the chef preparing your meal, eternally grateful it's not you laboring over a hot oven or skillet. When that pickup order or packaged leftovers come from a Chinese restaurant, you're also happy for the cute little boxy container with a convenient handle for transporting from vehicle to fridge to microwave. 

But hold on, can you actually zap that kung pao chicken, chow mein, or shrimp-fried rice with electromagnetic microwaves? The answer is likely yes for the food itself, but a pretty definite no for the containers. First of all, take a second look at the handle that graciously facilitated the journey from the Chinese restaurant to your kitchen domain. Either the entire handle or its fasteners are often crafted from metal, leading to those dreaded sparks that can damage your microwave oven.  

If that weren't enough for caution, consider the construction of the container, which is typically cardboard or paperboard for Chinese takeout boxes. To keep that cardboard from getting soggy due to the food's heat and moisture, there's a good chance the container has been waterproofed with a coat of plastic or other potentially harmful chemicals. When those coatings get heated in a microwave, they can infuse that delicious food with undesirable chemicals. As terrifying as that may sound, there are simple ways to avoid that fate.

Take things into your own hands, containers included

First of all, be aware that it's not just Chinese food that carries the risk of container contamination when heated in a microwave. Likewise, not all of those containers have metal handles or come with chemical-laden coatings. You may want to note which eating establishments use more microwave-friendly containers for leftovers or takeout and choose your patronage accordingly. Alternatively, avoid the entire guessing game by bringing along your own trusted containers and requesting they be used for your order. 

Regardless of how restaurant food is packaged, you're ultimately in control once it arrives at your home domain — including how it gets reheated. Microwaving is quick, easy, and reliable, so there's no need to hang a scarlet letter on that trusted kitchen companion. Just ditch the Chinese takeout box and empty the fresh to-go food or yummy leftovers into your preferred at-home containers. The term "microwave safe" generally means it won't melt or warp under microwave heat, but plastic containers are still a concern due to things like endocrine-disrupting chemicals and microplastics leaching into your food when heated. To play it super-safe, opt for glass or ceramic ware for microwaving.

Takeout containers with waxy coatings are not recyclable in many cities, so they'll need to be put into the trash. Even though the paperboard material itself would otherwise be recyclable, the coating is not removable once applied, likely sending the entire container to landfill or incinerator doom.