Since the early 1970s, microwave ovens have been a staple in nearly every American kitchen. We are a culture of convenience and the microwave is the ultimate reflection of our need for speed. The question of microwave safety is brought up periodically and consumers are always reassured that there is no danger provided the device is used properly.
Microwaves are designed to function only when the door is firmly closed and to immediately stop generating heat when it’s no longer in any cooking mode. This means that as long as the microwave is kept clean and there are no stray wires or broken parts, there is no danger of harmful radiation. For an explanation of how microwaves work, visit the World Health Organization's website.
But what about the materials we put in the microwave and the foods we cook?
By now we’ve all heard the dangers of putting plastics in the microwave. So ask yourself, why would the frozen food industry still be using plastics in the majority of their microwaveable meals? As with many food labels, the government doesn’t regulate the term “microwave safe.” The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel release an article back in 2008 suggesting that there were notable amounts of BPA in all plastics, which once microwaved, can reach toxic levels and seep into foods. Since then, very little has been done to regulate the industry or inform consumers of the potential risk.
And what about the foods we cook? Microwaves cook food from the outside in often resulting in unevenly cooked meals. When cooking for children, it’s tempting to simply stir it all up to evenly warm through the food so that you don’t overheat and then wait for the meal to cool. After all, it’s all about convenience and speed. In the case of frozen meals-on-the-go and even leftovers, many workers have only a limited time for lunch and have to contend with others waiting in line for the microwave. That results in disregarding the “let stand in microwave for 2 minutes” portion of the instructions. In both scenarios, it’s likely that the food is undercooked which could leave harmful bacteria.
The safety of the microwave is in the hands of the chef. Be mindful of the products you put in the microwave and you’ll reap the convenience without the risks.