Microwave Safety: Zap Your Food Right

Microwave Safety: Zap Your Food Right

Microwave ovens have been in existence since the inventor discovered the technology by accident. That’s right, in 1945 while working in the lab studying powered radar, self-taught engineer Percy Spencer noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket had melted. Although others had experienced this type of energy transference in the past, it was Mr. Spencer that had the entrepreneurial vision to bring it to the masses. 

Today, the microwave oven is used just about anywhere, yet some still feel that this way of cooking food is still unsafe. With microwaves all around us, microwave safety can be a concern.

Can Microwaves Cause Cancer?

Let’s get the elephant out of the room first. When microwave ovens came to market they were fairly safe but the alarm was broadcast by good meaning groups that didn’t have the numbers yet. Microwaves are made up of low-frequency electromagnetic radiation. The key word here is “low” meaning that the small amount of radiation that is emitted (yes, some does escape but it’s not nuclear radiation) is not cancer causing. This is unless you have direct exposure for long periods of time.

According to Very Well Health,

“When a microwave oven is working properly (and the door has a good seal), very little microwave energy can leak out. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the amount that does so is considered to be well below the level that could cause harm to humans.”

Your first instinct may be not to trust the FDA or any science for that matter, yet the research speaks for itself. So much so that the Cancer Council, an Australian research group dedication to eradicating this disease, states:

“Microwaves, radio waves, and the light that we can see, are all examples of non-ionising radiation. The only non-ionising radiation which causes cancer is ultraviolet (UV) light, which is why people are advised to protect themselves from excessive sun exposure when UV levels are high. Microwaves are not known to cause cancer.”

Nutrition Concerns

You may have heard that cooking food in a microwave decreases its nutritional value. Some research shows that this may be the opposite. Heating food, in general, minimizes or destroys various nutrients and the longer it is heated the more nutrition is lost.

According to Timothy Jorgensen, an associate professor of radiation medicine at Georgetown University, as reported by Science Friday,

“The only thing that’s going to destroy food nutrition is if it does get too hot,” If you leave food in the microwave oven for too long, or contents are drying out or boiling over, the nutrition value could decrease. However, you can also make food too hot in an oven or on a grill. The waves themselves do not affect the food’s nutrition”

Dancing Molecules

You certainly don’t want to place your face close to the microwave while cooking (watch the kids here) as prolonged, direct exposure can be dangerous over time. Equate this to not breathing in your car exhaust everyday. However, interestingly, the design on the microwave door glass is no accident. Science Friday explains,

“Against the glass, there is a protective mesh screen dotted with tiny holes. These holes are spaced appropriately so that the long microwaves are kept bouncing inside the chamber,”

Cook In The Safe Zone

The containers you use to cook food in a microwave are important. Any type of metal cannot be used in a microwave as this material could flame and cause a fire. The only materials that should be used, as long as they are not painted or lined with metal (beware of gold and silver linings), are:

  • Glass
  • Ceramic
  • Labeled ‘microwave safe’

Don’t use old plastic as well as plastic that is not labeled safe. You can tell if a container is microwave safe by doing these two things: 

  • Check the bottom of the container for a clear message that says ‘microwave safe’ or ‘not for use in microwaves’
  • If there is no message then place the dish or container in the microwave with a cup of water (cup should be glass or ceramic, as mentioned, these two materials are microwave safe). Inside the microwave, place the cup of water on top of or next to the container in question and microwave on the highest power for one minute. If the container is hot or warm after one minute it is not microwave safe. If the container is cool and the cup of water is hot the container is microwave safe. If the cup is placed on top of or in the container and the container is cool only the surface under the cup will be warm. This is normal and that container is microwave safe.

Final Tips

With good research behind microwave safety, there are still some final tips to consider.

  • Do not reheat in frozen food containers as these are manufactured only to be used one time.
  • Do not microwave cold butter, whipped buttered potatoes or similar butter products unless in safe packaging (like a popcorn bag). The butter has been shown to release chemicals into food when heated at high temperatures.
  • Keep it Clean – Keeping the microwave door seal clear of uncleaned spills is essential. Jorgensen Drengenberg, consumer safety director at Underwrites Laboratories (UL) commented, “Keep that door gasket area very clean with a damp rag. That’s the best safety device that you have.”
  • Watch Your Food – Obviously don’t press your nose to a working microwave door but don’t disappear either. Most fires are caused by neglect, not manufacturing. Be sure to follow heating instructions per food item and be careful of metal or unsafe containers.

Be mindful of microwave safety and zap your food right. Also know that safety standards are very high in the USA. In addition, these standards apply to overseas manufacturing coming into the country as well.