I use a microwave oven several times a day.
The convenience of a microwave oven is alluring. I primarily use mine to re-heat food, and I love the steamer bags for vegetables. In fact, I eat more vegetables more often because of this wonderful way to steam fresh or frozen vegetables in just a few minutes. I can have perfectly cooked vegetables without the oils and without the cleanup.
In 2011, about 97% of the housing units in the U.S. had a microwave oven (Williams, et al, 2012). Although virtually everyone has one, not everyone knows how to use them properly or takes the proper precautions – especially children.
Per the article Microwave oven-related injuries treated in hospital EDs in the United States, 1990 to 2010 by Thambiraj DF1, Chounthirath T, Smith GA Am J Emerg Med. 2013 Apr 18, an estimated 155,959 individuals with microwave oven-related injuries were treated in US hospitals from 1990 through 2010. This equals an average of 21 individuals per day. 60.7% were female; 63.3% were adults (≥18 years). Nearly two of five injuries were to children. During the 21-year study period, the number and rate of microwave oven-related injuries increased significantly. The most common mechanism of injury was a spill (31.3%), and the most common body region injured was the hand and fingers (32.4%). Patients younger than 18 years were more likely to sustain an injury to their head and neck than adults.
The authors concluded that “Microwave ovens are an important source of injury in the home in the United States. The large increases in the number and rate of these injuries underscore the need for increased prevention efforts, especially among young children.”
First regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1971, microwave oven manufacturers must certify their products meet safety performance standards created and enforced by the FDA to protect the public health. According to the FDA’s 5 Tips for Using Your Microwave Oven Safely, microwave ovens are generally safe when used correctly. But as the FDA notes, people have experienced burns (see above), and in rare cases, other injuries from microwave radiation, particularly in cases involving improper use or maintenance.
The FDA further explains that most injuries are the result of heat-related burns from hot containers, overheated foods, or exploding liquids. Except in very rare instances, most injuries are not related to radiation.
FDA regulations require that microwave ovens are designed to prevent high-level radiation leaks. Manufacturers must certify that their microwave ovens comply with specific FDA safety standards. These standards require any radiation given off by ovens to be well below the level known to cause injury.
As for ensuring that your food is properly cooked or liquids are safely heated in a microwave oven, check out the United States Department of Agriculture’s article called Microwave Ovens and Food Safety.
Safely operating your microwave oven and cooking foods properly in them are clearly described by the FDA and USDA. Another important danger associated with microwave ovens are their placement.
I have discussed proper placement of microwave ovens in previous blogs, so please excuse the redundancy. But locating your microwave oven at the right height and using hot pads can help prevent possible scalding from hot foods – the number one cause of microwave injuries.
The objective of a microwave oven is to heat food and liquids. We want our cooked food or cup of coffee or tea to be hot. But if they spill, they can scald our delicate skin. So here are a few other tips to prevent scalding from food and liquids prepared in a microwave.
Follow the FDA and USDA tips for safe cooking with microwave ovens. Place your microwave oven in a safe and convenient location. And monitor your children’s use of them. Now that we virtually all have microwave ovens – let’s put them in the proper location and use them more safely.