Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published April 23, 2010, 12:00 AM

Practice food safety when using microwave

Microwave ovens were introduced more than 40 years ago and were a novelty item at first. I recall the first microwave oven my family had in the mid-1970s.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, INFORUM

Microwave ovens were introduced more than 40 years ago and were a novelty item at first. I recall the first microwave oven my family had in the mid-1970s. We received it as a prize from a bank. My mom was kind of skeptical about this new cooking technology that came with a thick owner’s manual.

The oven spent several months in our garage in its box before we finally unpacked it and plugged it in. The oven occupied quite a large area of counter space, which didn’t earn it any further respect. We eventually began to use it.

Today, microwave ovens are present in 90 percent of households. Microwave ovens certainly speed meal preparation for time-starved consumers.

However, we can’t take microwave ovens for granted. We need to consider some food safety issues that have been associated with them.

Food cooked in a microwave oven may have “cold spots” or areas that are not fully heated. This can occur because different components (fat, water or starch) absorb energy differently.

In 2007, a multistate foodborne illness outbreak was associated with chicken pot pies. Of the 401 people sickened, about 32 percent were hospitalized with salmonellosis.

Most (77 percent) had cooked the pot pies in a microwave oven. During the investigation, much consumer confusion about the cooking instructions was noted.

As a result, many food manufacturers have added statements such as “cook thoroughly” to the front of food packages with microwave instructions. Food safety experts are adding “observe standing time” to their food safety messages.

Be patient when microwaving foods, even if you are really hungry and standing by the microwave oven counting down the seconds until lunch. Follow the microwave preparation instructions on the package closely.

If your microwave oven does not have a turntable, be sure to turn the cooking dish several times and stir your food midway. Instructions usually recommend a standing time. This allows the microwaved food to finish cooking and is a critical step for safety.

Besides following the instructions, consider using a food thermometer to check doneness of the food. Measure the internal temperature in several places. For example, leftover meat or casseroles should be reheated to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Consider your microwave containers, too. Have you ever noted family members or co-workers reheating foods in Styrofoam takeout containers or plastic tubs that formerly held whipped topping? Using these materials in the microwave may result in the migration of harmful chemicals into the food.

To safely heat food in a microwave oven, use containers made of glass, microwavable plastic or another material recommended in the microwave oven owner’s manual. The trays that come with microwaveable dinners are meant for one use only, so do not save these containers and reuse them.

If you are covering food containers with plastic wrap, be sure the plastic wrap does not come into contact with the food.

Microwave ovens are part of everyday cooking for many people. Try this easy microwave dessert recipe from the University of Kentucky Extension Service.


Apple Crisp

5 cups apples, peeled and sliced (or use canned apple slices)

¾ cup oatmeal

1 cup flour

¾ cup brown sugar

½ tsp. salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ cup butter or margarine

Place apple slices in a 2-quart casserole dish. Combine dry ingredients. Cut shortening into dry ingredients until crumbly. Sprinkle topping evenly over the sliced apples. Place in a microwave oven for 15 minutes, turning one-quarter of a turn often.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 279 calories, 41 grams (g) of carbohydrate, 12 g of fat and 273 milligrams of sodium.


Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

Tags: