It was one of the most revolutionary inventions of the 20th century and has completely changed the way we cook food. Yet still, you must have wondered, staring at that little metal box, hearing that irritating buzz as the plate slowly rotates round and round, what is really going on inside your microwave – and could it be dangerous?
The humble microwave has hit the headlines following University of Manchester’s new report, suggesting that, combined, the EU’s microwaves emit the same amount of carbon dioxide as nearly 7 million cars. And what about those rumours that used to circulate back in the day, about microwaves emitting ‘dangerous radiation’ – so you’d better not stand too close to one when they’re in action!
First things first, in actuality, microwaves are not that dangerous. As far as those radiation rumours are concerned, you can’t get cancer from standing in front of a microwave, and even if there was a leak, it wouldn’t be considered dangerous, according to the American Cancer Association. However, with that myth debunked, it is still worth looking at the main ways to safely use a microwave and minimise any potential risks for you and your family:
1. Check your containers
This may seem obvious, but still it is worth underlining. Don’t use non-microwave-safe containers in the microwave. Certain types of plastic could be unsuitable for this method of heating food. However, contrary to what you may have heard, not all plastic is unsafe for the microwave so have a look at the plastic you’re using and look for the ‘microwave safe’ symbol . But if you’re unsure, don’t use it.
2. Avoid boiling water in the microwave (or if you do, be careful)
Water in the microwave probably won’t boil. It will just keep getting hotter and hotter and hotter – the science behind this is due to the fact water needs a ‘nucleation site’ to catalyse bubbles, and the glasses, mugs and other things you will be putting in the microwave probably won’t have any. So when you take out your cup of molten hot non-boiling water from the microwave, any minor disturbance – whether that be putting in a tea bag or dropping in some coffee – may cause the water to suddenly boil and burst out the cup, with the potential to burn, so be very careful. If you really want to boil water in the microwave, to prevent danger, let the cup rest a minute or so afterwards.
3. Don’t put metal or foil in the microwave
Unless you are looking to start your very own, very dangerous, miniature thunder storm in your kitchen, don’t put food covered in foil, or any type of metal or metal packaging, into your microwave. This may seem common knowledge, but it is easy to forget, foil and metal in your microwave will spark and may catch fire.
So don’t be tempted to reheat your Chinese takeaway leftovers in their aluminium container, even if it’s just for a minute or so. Your microwave may state that some metal is safe – if you can find the manual – even then though, be careful.
4. Be careful of trying to microwave thick food (such as defrosting chicken)
Microwaves can only penetrate a couple of centimetres into the food, then they start losing energy, so that big slab of chicken breast you’re looking to defrost? Bad idea. Try not to microwave thick chunks of food as it will probably not cook all the way through and you could end up pretty ill.