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Dear Dr. Vinny,
I have a few special bottles in my cellar that I like to give a little extra protection to. Is it OK to store wine for long periods in Styrofoam? There shouldn't be any absorption of stuff out-gassing from the foam, assuming the corks are fine?
—Matt J., Anchorage, Alaska
To prove I can geek it with the best of you, I did some research on this. Styrofoam® is Dow Chemical's trademarked name for foamed polystyrene. For years I avoided the stuff because I was worried about the byproduct of nasty chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the production of polystyrene. These days, production methods have changed, and it appears you don't have to experience CFC-guilt when you get a cup of coffee in a foam cup. However, it's not exactly biodegradable. The guess is that it takes 500 years for that coffee cup to dissolve, and what it dissolves into, I'm not exactly sure.
While I'm sure that's impressed you, the question remains whether or not corks are permeable enough to allow stuff from the environment inside a bottle of wine. The conventional wisdom is that if the seal is working properly, cork is not supposed to breathe. There is some discussion about how infinitesimally the exchange of oxygen and evaporation is occurring with corks, but by my research, none of this exchange would get near any danger levels of significant polystyrene exposure, especially at the slow rate the polystrene is dissolving.
My advice is that it's OK (I personally have some wines stored in polystyrene), but I can also understand why some would choose to avoid it altogether. Whatever you do, do not burn polystyrene. That's when it becomes most toxic.
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