Microwave Safety and Tips

Don't use the microwave for deep-frying, canning, or heating baby bottles. These applications don't allow adequate temperature control for safe results.

Stay with the oven when microwaving popcorn, for heat buildup can cause a fire. Time heating per instructions but lean toward the shorter time (some ovens can scorch popcorn in two minutes).

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Don't dry or disinfect clothing or other articles in the microwave because of the risk of fire.

Use only microwave-safe utensils. Hot food melts some plastics, such as margarine tubs, causing migration of package constituents. It's a good idea to use glass for fatty foods, which get particularly hot, though not all glass and ceramics are microwave-safe.

Here's a quick test for glass: Microwave the empty container for one minute. It's unsafe for the microwave if it's warm; it's OK for reheating if it's lukewarm; and it's OK for actual cooking if it's cool.

Properly used, a microwave oven is extremely safe. Under authority of the Radiation Control for Health and Safety Act, FDA's-Center for Devices and Radiological Health ensures that microwave ovens made after 1971 meet a radiation safety standard requiring: two independent interlock systems to stop microwave production the moment the latch is released or the door is opened. A monitoring system stops the oven if either or both of the interlocks fail.

To be sure radiation levels from a microwave oven remain as low as possible, consumers can take these steps:

Don't use an oven if an object is caught in the door or if the door doesn't close firmly or is otherwise damaged. If you have an older model oven with a soft mesh door gasket. Check for deterioration which would require servicing.

If you suspect excessive microwave leakage, contact the manufacturer, a reputable servicing firm, the local state health department. The FDA has found the inexpensive home microwave-testing devices that are available to be generally inaccurate.

Don't operate an empty oven if the introduction manual warns against this. In some ovens the magnetron tube can be damaged by unabsorbed energy.

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If there are signs of rusting inside the oven, have the oven repaired.

Clean the door and oven cavity---the outer edge. too. ---with water and mild detergent. Do not use abrasives such as scouring pads.

Follow the manufacturer's instruction manual for recommended operating procedures and safety precautions.

Be sure children who use the microwave can do so safely.

There previously was concern that electromagnetic emissions from microwave ovens could interfere with heart pacemakers. Modern pacemakers are shielded against such interference, but some older models may still be adversely affected by proximity to a microwave oven. If in doubt, check with your doctor.

Microwaved foods typically retain more vitamins and minerals foods cooked by other methods because microwaving takes less and doesn't require much additional water.

Though microwaves produce heat directly in the food, they really don't cook food from the inside out. With thick foods like roasts microwaves generally cook only about an inch of the outer layers. The heat is then slowly conducted inward, cooking along the way.

An area of a food where there is increased moisture will heat more quickly than other areas. So, when heating up a jelly roll, for instance, it's a good idea to let the food stand after cooking for a minute or two until the heat disperses from the high moisture jelly to the low moisture pass throughout. To promote uniform cooking, recipes for microwave ovens usually include directions such as turn the food midway through cooking and cover and let stand after cooking.

As a rule, it's not good to use metal pans made for conventional ovens or aluminum foil because reflected microwaves cause uneven cooking and could even damage the oven. However, some new metal cookware is specially configured for use in microwave ovens. These pans are safe, provided instructions for use are carefully followed.

Some oven models have a protector on the magnetron tube to allow use of a small amount of metal, such as meat skewers or strips of foil over chicken wings and legs. The instructions that come with each microwave oven tell what kinds of containers to use and how to test for suitability for use.

The following test is used for gauging energy output: Fill a glass measuring cup with exactly 1 cup of tap water. Microwave, uncovered, on "high" until water begins to boil.

If boiling occurs in: wattage is:

less than 3 minutes 600 to 700
3 to 4 minutes 500 to 600
more than 4 minutes less than 500 watts

About The Author: This information written by Anne Field, Extension Specialist, Emeritus, with references from the FDA Consumer newsletter. Michigan State University Extension

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