Microwave Oven Myths, Misunderstandings Lead to Injuries | DC Metro Area Personal Injury Law Blog

Unlike conventional ovens, microwaves cook food from the inside out, right?

Wrong, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A), which warns that the “reverse cooking” myth often puts people at risk of food contamination when items like raw meat go under-cooked in the center.  The agency urges microwave oven users to utilize a cooking thermometer and check the temperature of all foods before serving them to ensure their safety.  Experts also advise heating potentially dangerous foods to the following temperatures:

  • “Cook ground meats to 160 °F; ground poultry to 165 °F.
  • Beef, veal, and lamb steaks, roasts, and chops may be cooked to 145 °F; all cuts of fresh pork, 160 °F.
  • Poultry should reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F.
  • Eggs and casseroles containing eggs, 160 °F.
  • Fish should reach 145 °F.
  • Always allow standing time, which completes the cooking, before checking the internal temperature with a food thermometer.”

The U.S.D.A. also reminds users to be mindful of “standing time” — the amount of time many heat-and-eat or pre-packaged foods need to sit in the microwave, according to their directions, before being served.  Standing time doesn’t just allow the food to cool, says the agency; it allows the food to finish heating.  Microwaves cook by causing molecules of water, fat and sugar to vibrate — up to 2.5 million times per second — and that vibration causes heat.  That’s why the air in a microwave doesn’t get hot, as with a conventional oven; the food actually heats through imperceptible motion.  When the oven timer sounds, however, the molecules continue to vibrate for a minute or more, often getting progressively hotter for a time.  Letting the food “rest” allows the heat to spread throughout the food, cooking it evenly.

“Erupting” is also a dangerous microwave phenomenon.  When liquid (usually water) is heated without being disturbed, bubbles can’t form, and though the water may actually be much hotter than its boiling point, it won’t start boiling until something disrupts its surface.  If the microwaved water is hot enough, and a finger or tea bag is first to disturb it, the water can literally erupt in a boiling frenzy all at once, causing serious burns to unsuspecting people.  Though eruptions are rare, you can avoid them by following this advice, also from the U.S.D.A:

  • “Use a vessel with sloping walls, such as a measuring cup.
  • Leave a microwavable spoon in the vessel while heating.
  • Stir occasionally while heating.
  • Add a pinch of instant coffee, a tea bag, or gelatin at the beginning or halfway through heating.”

You can safeguard your health and safety by taking time to familiarize yourself with the safety precautions of all your kitchen and cooking equipment, and by making sure children are aware of the risks of everyday appliances, as well.

Previously on the D.C. Metro Area Personal Injury Law Blog, we have posted articles related to:

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