Are Microwaves Safe?

September 26th, 2011

If you’ve been a reader, this title may seem a little off. It’s not about sex, health, kids, marriage, friendship, career, or anything like that. But, I did promise to cover all the issues that we women sit on the fence about. And wow, am I on the fence here! If you’re a busy WOMAN- single, married, divorced, kids, no kids, most of you own a microwave. In fact, over 90% of American homes have microwave ovens. Not just to reheat a bottle, but what about to reheat a quick leftover dinner? To heat up soup for your daughter’s thermos for school lunches?  To cook a lean cuisine, for crying out loud? (I’ve never had a lean cuisine in my life, but you get the point).

I admit, I am guilty. I USE my microwave. Like really use it. Very occasionally to defrost raw meet or poultry if I’ve run out of time. To heat up my son’s cheese bagel for breakfast this morning. To reheat the penne rosée for school lunches last week.  I definitely have decreased my microwave use over the years, resorting to the less lazy ways of heating things up (like my toaster oven, or stove top). And I even try to use a plate instead of a plastic splatter tray, but I still use this controversial machine. And I say controversial, because it really has been for many years.

The thing is, there are two bodies of evidence, or two results emerging from the studies (which are not that current, by the way). I quote just one example, from one study:

“In 1992, Swiss scientist Hans Hertel, assisted by Bernard Blanc, conducted a very thorough study on eight healthy human volunteers in their 20s and 30s. The study included raw milk and pasteurized milk and frozen and fresh vegetables. The foods were all consumed raw, cooked normally, and microwaved.

Before and after each meal, their blood was tested. Nutrient damage well beyond normal cooking was present in their blood after consuming microwave cooked food, with abnormalities paralleling the findings of earlier Russian studies. Hertel concluded that technologically induced energy damage can be passed on to humans with microwaved food in addition to direct microwave emissions.

The blood samples from test subjects who had consumed microwaved foods demonstrated decreased lymphocytes (white blood cells) and decreased haemoglobin and cholesterol values, combined with increased luminescence or energy of luminescent bacteria. (NaturalNews.com)

Okay, holy shit scary! There are other findings similar to these.

And then there are other comforting findings.

“There is no confirmed scientific evidence to prove a link between such effects and microwave radiatus exposure.”

“There’s no substantive research to support any concerns about using microwave ovens during pregnancy. Heating something in a microwave doesn’t expose you to any significant radiation.” (Jennifer R. Niebyl)

“Microwaves have improved in their construction through the many years of use and rarely leak radiation. If your microwave is old or damaged, however, some radiation might leak through. Here is a way to test it: Open the door and place strip of paper in the door jam. Close the door, capturing the paper. Now pull the paper. If the paper slides through the door, the seal is poor. Replace the seal or don’t use the microwave.” (Penelope Morrison Bosarge).

“Typical levels of radiation leakage from microwave ovens is about 0.2 mW/cm2 which is far below the limit set by the national safety standard Safety Code 6: Limits of Exposure to Radiofrequency Fields at Frequencies from 10 kHz-300 Ghz (1994, 60 p., Health Canada pub. 91-EHD-160). This level of leakage cannot be sensed by the body.”

I am not a scientist, nor have I been in the lab doing the research. So I cannot comment with certainty for either side. I simply wanted to present some of the arguments for both sides, and to state that I am really on the fence with all of this. The FDA does say that many scientific questions about exposure to low-levels of microwaves are not yet answered, and requires FDA to continue to enforce radiation protection requirements. (FDA.gov) I DO know that any machine that emits radiation at any level scares me, and that includes my mobile phone. And I can tell you, I feel like a horrible, lazy mother every time I use it. That much I know.

So, regardless of what side of the fence you’re on, safe or not safe, I want to give you some safety tips on using microwaves.

I have searched high and low to try and cover all safety angles. A few tips for using your microwave as safely as possible:

  • Food doesn’t heat uniformly in a micro­wave oven, so microorganisms can survive in areas that haven’t heated properly. Let food stand after microwaving, so heat can move evenly through it. Better still, stir the food part way through the microwaving; many food manufacturers recommend this for their microwaveable meals.
  • Circular and oval containers are better options than square containers, as they allow uniform heating at the edges and help prevent burning.
  • If reheating food on a dinner plate, use a glass plate to block the splatter, rather than having plastic film touch the food (or even a plastic splatter tray).
  • The power density of the microwave radiation decreases rapidly with increasing distance from the oven. Stay at least one meter away from the front of an operating oven. This is especially so with pregnant women according to a U.S. government agency, which states that the human fetus is “probably the most sensitive segment of the population potentially exposed to microwave radiation.” (Remember, our moms told us to stand away from the microwave while it’s in use– 10 feet to be exact?) Children represent another sensitive segment of the population. Never should anyone, and especially children, stand gazing into, or directly against an operating microwave oven.
  • If the door of an oven will not close properly, is bent, warped, tampered with, or otherwise damaged in any way, DO NOT OPERATE the oven unless you are a qualified service person with an approved RF survey meter in hand.
  • Never operate an oven when it is empty. This creates a no-load condition, which can damage the oven and cause excess leakage.
  • Exercise extreme caution if you have a pacemaker implant. Microwave radiation may cause pacemaker interference. Persons with pacemaker implants should not be near a microwave oven unless they are sure that it is in good operating condition and there is no leakage of microwave radiation.
  • Check to see that door seal and inside surfaces of door and oven cavity are clean after each use.
  • Do not use containers intended for cold storage (e.g., margarine tubs) or wrappings that come with packaged foods.
  • Do not cook large cuts of meat on high power (100%). Large cuts of meat should be cooked on medium power (50%) for longer periods. This allows heat to reach the center without overcooking outer areas.
  • Stir or rotate food midway through the microwaving time to eliminate cold spots where harmful bacteria can survive, and for more even cooking.
  • When partially cooking food in the microwave oven to finish cooking on the grill or in a conventional oven, it is important to transfer the microwaved food to the other heat source immediately. Never partially cook food and store it for later use.

(CCOHS.ca, Health Canada, USDA, Listener.co, and more).

I know one thing, we all want to live safely with this appliance of massive convenience.

Please share your microwave safety tips and suggestions, and let me know your thoughts on this topic. Do you use your microwave often? Do you have certain rules or restrictions for use in your house? Please share your important knowledge with our community.

xoxEDxox

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16 Responses to “Are Microwaves Safe?”

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  6. LaurenNo Gravatar says:

    Erica, thank you so much for this! I have always been particularly wary about my microwave, and thanks to one of the safety tests you wrote about, I realized the door is not properly sealed – I can run a paper straight through it! We are getting a new microwave and will only use it when really needed – i.e. more often than I would like!!
    Love your blog – thanks again!

  7. mNo Gravatar says:

    I hesitantly use the microwave and always have wondered if it was really safe. I basically use it to heat food up.

  8. Raquel says:

    Great post Erica! I have always had doubts about how ‘safe’ microwaves really are.
    After our last microwave “blew up” I decided not to purchase a new one because of this reason.
    I must admit, I had to get used to not having one for a couple of weeks especially with 2 kids.
    However, I do not miss the microwave at all now and will not have one ever again.

  9. We do use our microwave a decent amount of time. I have less than an hour to heat something up for lunch. To save money I usually reheat leftovers. It takes way too much time to use an oven or toaster oven. I do make sure that the kids do not stand directly in front of it. I remember one time something going around that if you stand in front of the microwave it is easier to get the radiation. I am sure it is not correct but it is something from childhood. Also, never let the kids cook anything without supervision. My very intelligent 10 year old decided to put a pop tart in the microwave with the foil wrapper still on. Luckily I turned the corner as it started sparking and quickly opened the microwave. I am scared to think of what would’ve happened if I hadn’t been there.

  10. Ditched ours years ago…don’t miss it-except when my coffee gets cold…

  11. Jennifer WrightNo Gravatar says:

    I don’t “cook” in it. I only use it for reheating but still don’t even think that’s very safe. I know the studies say it’s safe but I’m skeptical.

  12. BonnieNo Gravatar says:

    We have a microwave but I rarely use it. There are other studies that show that the nutrients in food are actually killed in the microwave so veggies… not as “good” for you after heating in a microwave. Ugh! But I confess, I do use mine a least a couple times a week.

  13. DonnaNo Gravatar says:

    I also feel guilty every time I use our microwave to heat up the kids food or our dinner. I know it can’t be safe but I get lazy each time. I know I should be using the stove top to reheat food but who can be bothered at 6 am when making lunches for the kids?

  14. M says:

    We use the microwave on a limited basis. More often to re-heat or pop popcorn, but never to cook and never to defrost meat. After reading your article, I may decide to remove it completely.

  15. Cynthia JacksonNo Gravatar says:

    I own a microwave but never use it. It scares the living daylights out of me. Good post. You’re not a bad mom. You’re just a busy mom. :)

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