Food safety is an important factor in all of our daily lives. We’re constantly making and eating food, and that food needs to be safe for our body; otherwise, we can get sick. Often that sickness is short-lived with food poisoning or just an upset stomach. However, when people think about microwaves, they may wonder if microwaved food is unsafe?
Microwaving food sends electromagnetic radiation waves through the food to heat it up much faster than an oven or stove. So the concern is how safe is the food that your microwave cooks or reheats for you? Because radiation is not something you consider being safe.
We know that you’re not going to have instant problems from microwaving your food, but if you are using a microwave every day or multiple times a week, then you’re getting an accumulation of effects through the food you’re eating.
In this article, we will review food safety regarding microwaved food and how safe that food may be for you. Hopefully, in the end, you can make an informed decision on whether the convenience of microwaves is enough to keep you using them.
Do microwaves emit dangerous radiation?
The biggest food safety concern about microwaves is whether the food you consume is unsafe and will cause cancer. Microwaves use electromagnetic radiation waves to make the molecules in your food vibrate extremely quickly, causing friction and ultimately heat. So yes, there is radiation used in cooking your food.
There are two types of radiation, and it’s important to understand them both to determine how dangerous your microwave may be. First, you have ionizing radiation; second, you have non-ionizing radiation; your microwave uses non-ionizing radiation to cook your food.
Ionizing radiation is the type you would find in nuclear power plants, or even when you get an x-ray to check broken bones. High enough amounts of ionizing radiation can be dangerous and even fatal if you’re exposed to too much. This is the type of radiation that will cause cancer and other significant issues.
Non-ionizing radiation is extremely low-level radiation, so it isn’t transferring enough to your food to make it unsafe to consume. However, it’s still a form of radiation being output by a device in your kitchen, so you can’t say it’s completely safe.
Can faulty microwaves make your food unsafe?
Everything working correctly, your food will most likely be safe when microwaved. However, what happens if your microwave becomes faulty and starts leaking or producing too much radiation?
The FDA in the United States requires all microwave manufacturers to prove their products are safe and not leaking too much radiation. However, faulty devices caused by a product defect, tampering, or accidental breakage can still be dangerous to you.
There are warnings that you must not stand directly against your microwave while it’s heating food, especially for children who absorb radiation much easier than adults. So it’s best not to press your face against the glass to watch the food as it cooks.
So, the final result is that microwaved food, in general, should be safe for you to consume. However, there is still the possibility that an old or defective microwave could harm you.
Avoid using a broken or ancient microwave that could present leaks or damages. They are potentially harmful. Get a brand new one if you can afford it. Go for microwaves with smart sensors https://amzn.to/3oxKBZ4 and easy to clean.
Can plastics that cover or contain your food cause cancer?
If you’re somebody that puts a plastic covering over your food when you microwave, you may be saving some cleaning time from the splashes and explosions. However, it’s possible that any carcinogenic components from that plastic wrap may leach into your food. So consider using a microwave-safe hard plastic covering rather than disposal plastic wrap.
You also need to be aware of the plastic containers that you’re heating your food in. While microwave-safe dishes are safe in most countries, you may not be using a microwave-safe dish, or you may have inherited it from your parents before governments made regulations to make containers safer.
Your best bet when microwaving food is to do it in ceramic or glass dishes. If you’re transferring food into the fridge, let it cool down before putting it into a plastic dish to keep yourself safe.
Does microwaved popcorn cause cancer?
While food, in general, is safe in microwaves, there may be some foods which when exposed to microwave radiation, may not be safe. One of the major discussions for this is around whether microwaved popcorn can cause cancer.
Most microwaved popcorn is prepackaged in microwavable bags to make it easy, and coat your popcorn with flavor. When you put these packages into the microwave, they cook like any other food and don’t cause harm.
One major issue with microwaved popcorn is that it’s often coated in diacetyl to give it a more buttery taste. This is the component that can cause lung cancer if inhaled often enough. So now, while the general population is safe, workers around this product or even highly high users of microwave popcorn could be at risk.
Microwave popcorn containing diacetyl is considered safe but not entirely safe. So consider using brands that do not contain this.
Are microwaved liquids safe?
Microwaves are an effective tool for heating and reheating liquids; this could be water for coffee and tea, it could be soup, or anything else that you’re making or reheating from the night before.
When it comes to microwaves being unsafe, food safety doesn’t just have to be about getting cancer from radiation. There are numerous warnings that you shouldn’t microwave liquids due to safety concerns.
When you heat liquids in the microwave, you have the potential for superheating to occur. Superheating is when your liquid is heated above boiling and for too long and starts overflowing from the edges of your container.
Stirring or moving this superheated liquid can be a safety concern as the steam trapped in the liquid can be exposed, and your liquid essentially explodes. The explosion from the superheated liquid may just cause a spill, or it could explode on your hands or even into your face.
The superheated liquid coming into contact with any part of your body will cause burns and may even cause severe burns that require medical treatment. Consider that water will burn you but quickly fall off or be able to be washed off. However, something like a sticky liquid or soup could cling to your hand and continue to burn before you can wash it off thoroughly.
Is microwaved milk safe for your baby?
Microwaving milk may not be safe for your baby; this isn’t because they absorb more radiation or that they may get cancer from the milk. Microwaves do not evenly heat or cook things. When you put a baby bottle into the microwave and heat it, the outside of the bottle may still feel cold while some of the milk inside may be extremely hot, and as you heat it further to make the outside hotter, you are making it ultra-hot milk that may end up burning the babies mouth, throat and everything else.
Be very careful if you choose this method for heating milk. Instead, consider going the old-fashioned way of heating milk on the stove to ensure food safety for your baby.
Can microwaved food cause food poisoning?
As we just found out, microwaves do not cook food evenly. So if you are concerned about food safety or whether microwaved food is unsafe, then consider what happens when you unevenly cook food.
Any food left out or contaminated by something may not be fully cooked in the microwave or heated high enough in all areas to kill the bacteria or other contaminants. So you’re running the risk of either having ultra-hot food or food that may make you sick.
Neither option is going to be especially safe for you, so you need to be especially careful when you’re reheating food, whether it’s been sitting out for a short time or whether you pulled it out of the fridge.
There are several factors to consider for food safety when you’re microwaving food, and each has a slightly different answer to whether microwaves make your food unsafe.
In general, the food you cook in the microwave is as safe as any other cooking method, and stoves or ovens can also cause any issues that microwaves can cause. So food safety should be thought about for any method you’re using to cook.
Microwaves do not give off enough radiation to make your foods unsafe or cause any problems to you due to radiation. The only issue may be with an or faulty microwave, so replace any damaged microwaves to ensure your safety.
Liquids can become superheated in the microwave, and you run the risk of severe burns to your body if you come into contact, which is a possibility if the liquids explode or “pop” when you pick them up. I can attest to the fact that even liquids from meat, such as fat or oil, can become superheated and pop in your face as you take them out of the microwave.
Be aware of the containers you use for microwaving and covering your food in the microwave. There is a potential that carcinogenic components could leak into your food and cause you long-term health issues.
Dr. Achille Kabore