If you're concerned about the disadvantages of microwaving food, consider that a properly used microwave oven presents very few health risks. While pressing this versatile cooking method into service, you can perform other food prep tasks that help you to more quickly whip up a healthy meal.
Beneficial Effects of Microwave Cooking
Cooking food in the microwave is a convenient, time-saving meal preparation method. After you place your microwavable container inside the oven and start the cooking cycle, you're free to tackle another task on your growing "To Do" list.
You can also benefit from the nutrition-related effects of microwave cooking, notes Dr. Anthony L. Komaroff in a Q and A article published by Harvard Health Publishing. Although every cooking method negatively impacts a food's nutrient makeup, microwave cooking causes far less nutrient damage than other cooking methods.
Why is that the case? Foods cook more quickly in the microwave, so the nutrients have less time to break down. Therefore, more nutrients remain available for your body's use. And, microwave cooking kills harmful microbes that could potentially contaminate your food and lead to health issues, another positive effect of microwave cooking.
Health Disadvantages of Microwaving Food
Chances are, you've heard claims about the health-related disadvantages of microwave heating of food. However, Dr. Christopher S. Baird in an article published by West Texas A&M University states that, used properly, microwave ovens present minimal hazards. In other words, there are very few disadvantages of microwave heating of food.
For starters, Dr. Baird notes that the oven's microwaves can't do anything more than provide heat. Naturally, you shouldn't place your hand inside a powerful microwave oven while it's operating, as you're likely to receive a burn.
However, that's an unlikely scenario, as a well-functioning microwave oven shuts off when you pull the door handle. At the moment you perform that action, the remaining microwaves have already dissipated, and they can't harm you.
Dr. Baird also presents another interesting perspective. He points out that the microwave's metal walls keep the microwaves from leaking into the outside air. This leakage would constitute an energy drain, which would result in inefficient heat distribution. He does not mention any link between microwave oven radiation and cancer.
In conclusion, Dr. Baird states that using your microwave oven doesn't present any special health risks. Naturally, following the manufacturer's safety guidelines is recommended.
Safety Precautions for Microwave Cooking
Certain types of containers are simply not safe for microwave cooking, according to Penn State Extension. Do not, under any circumstances, use any type of metal container in your microwave oven. Stay away from cardboard food containers that have metal handles, and avoid dishes with metallic embellishments.
Don't cover your containers with aluminum foil, and discard twisty ties with metal components. Plastic containers designed for cold foods, such as yogurt or butter tubs, are also off limits. Ban molded foam plates, bowls and cups in the microwave as well. This restriction is one of the few disadvantages of microwave heating of food.
Does Microwave Cooking Cause Cancer?
Maybe you've heard a well-traveled rumor that microwaving food in plastic containers and wraps can cause cancer. Specifically, the cooking process is purported to release cancer-producing compounds into the food. Fortunately, the Mayo Clinic has the facts, and the folks there would like to set the record straight.
Simply put, you can safely microwave your food in plastic containers and wraps that display "microwave safe" labels. However, microwaving food in nonmicrowavable containers, such as takeout boxes and plastic-whipped topping bowls, does present a health risk.
These generic plastic containers can melt under the oven's heat, and can possibly contaminate your food with harmful chemicals. To completely avoid this hazard, ensure that you microwave food only in containers that show the "microwave safe" text.
To elaborate, Moffitt Cancer Center epidemiologist Dr. Jenny Permuth provides more helpful tips for safely microwaving your food. First, Dr. Permuth notes that microwave-safe ceramic or glass containers also make good cooking vessels.
Throw away cracked, scratched or overly worn containers, as they are more subject to leak. Regardless of the container you choose, leave the lid slightly ajar so air can escape during the cooking process.
Microwave Cooking a Large Bird
Cooking your holiday turkey in the microwave is often a feasible option. Given some advance preparation and careful attention to cooking time, you can achieve the result you desire. While the turkey's cooking, your conventional oven will be available for baking other dishes.
If you purchase a frozen turkey, you must thaw it before starting the actual cooking cycle. Before committing to thaw the turkey in the microwave oven, the University of Illinois Extension suggests that you confirm that the oven is big enough for the job. This is especially important if the device contains a rotating tray. The manufacturer's directions may be useful here.
Because microwaves are notorious for their uneven defrosting functions, some parts of the turkey may become hotter than others. This can create ideal conditions for bacterial growth. To avoid associated health problems, cook the turkey right after you defrost it. Do not, under any circumstances, store the turkey in the refrigerator with plans to cook it later.
Turkey Microwave Cooking Guidelines
If you're cooking a whole turkey, consider that most microwave ovens cannot handle a turkey larger than 12 to 14 pounds in weight. Because of microwaves' wattage differences, cooking times can vary. The USDA recommends that you refer to the oven's owner's manual for instructions.
Avoid cooking a stuffed turkey in a microwave oven. There's no guarantee that the stuffing will reach the necessary internal temperature, even if the turkey has finished cooking. To avoid any surprises, use a separate casserole for the stuffing.
To improve heat distribution and to help compensate for irregular cooking times, place the turkey in a self-contained oven cooking bag. If you're cooking turkey parts rather than the whole bird, use a dish with a cover.
Next, confirm that you have 3 inches of clearance above the cooking dish. You'll also need 2 to 3 inches of space all around the turkey. For reference, allow 9 to 10 minutes per pound on the medium (50 percent) power setting. Keep rotating the turkey while it cooks, as that will help to ensure that it heats evenly.
Use an accurate food thermometer to determine when the cooking cycle is complete. When the food thermometer displays an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees °F in the innermost wing and thigh, and in the thickest section of the breast, the turkey has safely finished cooking.
Remove the turkey from the microwave, and let it rest for 20 minutes before carving it. As a side note, ensure that your hungry large dog (or athletic cat) cannot scavenge the turkey while it's cooling on the counter.
- Harvard Medical School: “Ask the Doctor: Microwave’s Impact on Food”
- West Texas A&M University: “How Much Extra Radiation am I Exposed to if I Stick My Hand in the Microwave Right After It turns Off?”
- Penn State Extension: “Making Healthy Meals: Give Your Microwave a Second Look”
- Mayo Clinic: “Cancer Causes: Popular Myths About the Causes of Cancer”
- Moffitt Cancer Center: “Does the Use of Plastic Containers in the Microwave Cause Cancer?”
- University of Illinois Extension: “Turkey for the Holidays”
- USDA: “Turkey: Alternate Routes to the Table”