Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Do Microwave Ovens Pose a Health Risk?

Quick, convenient and economical - but risky? The microwave has been with us for a long time now, and is one of our most popular kitchen appliances. It pays though, to be aware of some of the possible health risks involved in their use.

The first problem to consider is the microwave radiation itself. The magnetron in the oven produces a very high intensity alternating power food which makes the molecules inside the food move about, causing friction, and of course heat.

Health Today

The damage that microwave energy can do to living organisms has been well known since the 1930s, and when microwave ovens began to be popular in the home, studies carried out in the US demonstrated that, several models were well over what was then regarded as a safe emission limit.

Since then of course, standards for protection and microwave oven construction have improved considerably, so we don't need to worry - or do we?

Part of the problem is of course that microwaves are invisible and they have no odour, so how do you know if you they are leaking from your oven and putting you at risk? It has been generally accepted that if the door seals of the microwave are in good condition, if the door of the oven sits firmly on its hinges and fits snugly to the frame, there should be no problem. However, if you are still worried that there might be, you can buy a microwave leakage detector and check to be sure.

However, there are other dangers lurking in the microwave. Bugs. Bacteria. Germs. Call them what you like, these little creatures account for by far the greatest number of cases of food poisoning in the world today - and food poisoning can be much, much worse than having an upset tummy for a couple of days.

Just like conventional cooking, the microwave oven relies on the production of heat to kill any of the potentially hazardous bacteria that may be in our food. In order to destroy these bacteria, they must be exposed to a lethal temperature for a sufficient amount of time.

In theory, food should be cooked in such a way that the temperature zone in which bacteria multiply fastest (6 to 60 degrees Centigrade, roughly) is kept as short as possible, and final cooking time/ temperature should be such that their demise is assured. The microwave is good at doing the first bit, but not so good at the second. Fast microwave heating can often result in 'cold spots' within the food, where any bacteria present may survive quite happily.

Frequently, the outside of the food can seem really hot, while the inside is still cold. The rule here is to always go by the manufacturer's heating guidelines, including the resting phase after cooking - this allows the internal temperature of the food to even out and to continue to increase.

What about microwaves destroying the goodness in your food and even causing cancer? There is not one iota of genuine, acceptable research to even begin to support either of these notions. There is lots of speculation, but little real evidence.

Here is the biggest risk to your health connected to your microwave. Simple overheating! It is the cause of many, burning and scalding accidents every year, some of them serious. When you heat liquids in a microwave, it is possible for them to reach a temperature that is actually higher than their boiling point, and if that happens, the stem in the liquid cannot be released until the liquid is disturbed - by you removing the container or stirring it. The superheated steam then literally explodes on to your hands or face, with predictable results

You can minimise the risk simply by stirring the liquid a couple of times as you heat it.

Finally, be sure to use microwave safe plastics in your oven. Those from reputable makers will be marked 'Microwave Safe', and you can use them with confidence. Others, (often cheap imports) may leach some really nasty chemicals into your food, so are best avoided.

All in all, your microwave is a useful and very safe gadget - as long as you know the risks.

Do Microwave Ovens Pose a Health Risk?


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