A microwave oven is known for bringing leftover food or frozen food back to life. In some other cases, food is cooked or prepared using the microwave.
There are however assumptions and arguments on the safety of using microwaves to heat or cook food. In this article, I will settle the concerns that you may have concerning the microwave
What are microwaves and how they work?
Microwaves are kitchen appliances that cook or heat food using microwaves a type of electromagnetic radiation. A microwave oven is a relatively small, boxlike oven that heats food by subjecting it to a high-frequency electromagnetic field that makes water molecules in the food vibrate causing friction that heats up the food.
The concerns. Is it safe to microwave food?
There are many concerns raised by people who claim that the microwave is hazardous, here are the myths and facts.
1. Loss of nutrient content in food.
Many believe that heating food in the microwave makes it lose its nutrient content. It should be noted that every form of cooking reduces the nutrient content in food. This is due to factors like temperature, cooking time, and the method. Most especially when the food is boiled, water-soluble nutrients leak out of the food.
With the microwave, cooking time is usually short and food is not boiled. It is for reason as to why microwave food may contain nutrients more than boiled or fried food.
Different studies have been done to prove this fact or to trash it.
From a study, it was found out that the microwaved broccoli lost about 97% of the flavonoid antioxidants compared to boiling which made broccoli lose only 66%. It is from this study that many people accuse microwaves of nutrient loss in food. It should however be noted that water was added to broccoli before being put into the microwave which is not recommended.
In another study, it was found out that in just one-minute garlic lost cancer-fighting properties that took 45 minutes in a conventional oven.
From another study done on 20 different vegetables, microwaving and baking preserved more antioxidants than pressure cooking and boiling.
According to a review, the use of a microwave oven does not reduce the nutrient value as compared to other cooking methods.
In summary, apart from a few exceptions, microwaving doesn’t reduce nutrient value compared to other cooking methods. This is because microwaving takes a shorter time and with relatively lower temperatures.
Nutrients are lost when food is microwaved or cooked for too long and with high temperatures. The correct combination of time and temperature of microwaving can rather save nutrients, improve the food’s taste and color.
2. Exposure to radiation.
The radiation in microwaves is completely harmless. The type of radiation used in microwaves is low-frequency electromagnetic radiation which is the same as that used in light bulbs and radios.
Although human bodies absorb electromagnetic waves, most of the radiation is contained in the microwave. Even if you did absorb these waves, they are harmless. The waves only have an effect on food. When food is placed in the microwave, it absorbs these microwaves which in turn make water molecules in the food vibrate resulting in friction that heats the food.
You should also know that the type of radiation produced is not similar to that of atomic or nuclear bombs. It is rather non-ionizing radiation that doesn’t mutate cells or cause cancer. On the other hand, microwaves have a shield that prevents the radiation from leaving the device, and therefore there is no risk of harm.
Therefore, if your microwave is not broken, you will not be exposed to harmful radiation. It is also important to know that the food cooked in the microwave is not radioactive and is very safe to eat.
3. Should I be concerned about the use of plastics in microwaves?
The use of plastic containers in the microwave is not recommended as some may contain harmful compounds that can cause harm to you. Plastic containers made from materials such as BPA, Phthalates, and Polyvinyl chloride contain cancer-causing compounds. Non-microwave food containers can melt when heated causing compounds to leach into the food.
Compounds from harmful plastic compounds may cause infertility, reproductive problems, thyroid disorders, obesity, and cancer.
It is therefore not necessarily microwaving that leads to harm from the use of plastics but rather the use of poor food containers.
When microwave-friendly plastic food containers are used, there is a reduced risk of harm. When choosing a plastic container to use in the microwave, choose those with microwave-safe symbols which are usually at the bottom of food containers.
Plastic food container alternatives such as glass containers, silicone containers. cloth food sacks and glass jars can be used.
Read also: Why you should never use plastic food containers
4. Formation of harmful compounds.
When some foods are exposed to high temperatures, they produce harmful compounds. Since the microwave’s temperatures don’t exceed 100C or 212F, it reduces the risk of the formation of the harmful compounds that frying or boiling can produce.
For example, bacon produces nitrosamines when is excessively heated. From a study, it was found out that bacon heated in microwaves produced less nitrosamine compared to other cooking methods.
5. Heating risk.
Microwaves may not evenly heat the food with some portions being less heated whereas others are overheated. Some people may base on this fact to trash microwaves as with this type of uneven heating microwaving may not be effective at killing bacteria and pathogens as other heating methods do.
What you should put in mind is that microwaves are better at reheating food than cooking it as they may cook unevenly.
Depending on the portion of food and time used, some parts of the food will be hotter than others.
People that may get food poisoning after reheating food with a microwave are those that don’t set their microwaves properly. In order to kill bacteria, food should be heated at 82C (176F) and food shouldn’t be reheated more than once since bacteria can still grow each time the food cools down.
What foods should not be microwaved?
Although the microwave can help kill pathogens and bacteria from food, some foods aren’t microwaved friendly. These types of food may explode, produce smoke or change their nature.
Below are the foods you should place in the microwave.
Whole eggs: these explode after being microwave. Due to the pressure from steam build-up, the egg can explode on the plate or even in your mouth.
Processed meats: heating processed meats using the microwave can increase the production of cholesterol oxidation compounds which can be harmful to the arterial cells increasing the risk of heart disease.
Breast milk: the microwave can heat the milk unevenly resulting into ”hot spots” in the milk that can scald the baby’s mouth and throat.
Grapes: they explode into flames when microwaved.
Frozen meat: the uneven distribution of heat can cause some areas to overcook while others remain frozen. The areas that remain frozen can allow the growth of bacteria making them potential sources of food-borne diseases.
Hot peppers: they can get flamed or produce smoke.
Tips for Using Your Microwave Oven Safely
In order to safely use the microwave safely, here are some tips.
Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions by reading the manual for the recommended operating procedures.
- Use microwave-safe cookware that are specifically designed to be used in the microwave. These will help reduce contamination, hazards, and damage to the microwave.
- Don’t operate the microwave when it is faulty. If the door doesn’t firmly close, bent, or other types of damage, don t use the microwave for safety reasons.
- Avoid operating the microwave oven when it is empty.
- Clean your microwave regularly with water and a mild detergent.
- Children should use the microwave oven with supervision. Caution them about making experiments with
The bottom line.
The microwave is not hazardous and it can help you kill bacteria and pathogens in the food when used correctly. The microwave can be dangerous to your health when it is faulty or used in improper ways. When food is not overheated, not heated in dangerous plastic containers and it’s off the foods that you shouldn’t microwave then using the microwave to heat food will be very safe.