Microwaving: To nuke or not to nuke?
April 1, 2020
Microwaves are one of the 20th century's most useful inventions. In fact, over 90% of American homes have at least one microwave. The basics of using this appliance are widely known, but there are also some important pointers for keeping our foods safe and nutritious when heating with a microwave.
Tips for thorough cooking
While microwaves heat food and kill bacteria, they don't heat as evenly as a conventional oven. To help your foods cook through, spread them out in a covered dish, adding liquid if needed. Cover your dish with plastic wrap or a lid to help trap heat in and cook food more thoroughly. Bones can keep meat from cooking properly, so make sure to de-bone large portions of meat before microwaving them.
Another important tip for microwaving is to utilize standing time. Much like letting meat or poultry sit after cooking, standing time is the time frame where covered food sits and continues to cook after it has been microwaved. Before enjoying microwaved food, let it sit covered for a minute or two so it can finish cooking. A food thermometer is also important to make sure your foods are fully cooked.
After microwaving a dish, check the temperature in several locations to make sure all parts of the food have reached a safe temperature. The recommended internal temperature for reheated foods, such as microwaved leftovers, is 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
The right container
Using microwave-friendly containers and cookware is another important aspect of microwave safety. Ceramic containers, glass, and plastics that are microwave-safe will generally be labeled safe for microwave oven use. Materials to avoid microwaving include metal pans; brown paper bags;
newspaper; foam dishes or trays; china with metallic trim or paint; metal twist ties; aluminum foil; take-out containers with metal handles; and any packaging that has been warped or melted during heating.
Some may find it handy to heat leftovers stored in plastic yogurt cartons, margarine tubs, and sour cream or cottage cheese containers, but these items are actually not safe for the microwave. The plastic material is suitable for storing foods in the refrigerator but it's not safe for cooking, as chemicals from the packaging may migrate into food.
What about radiation?
A common concern is the overall safety of microwaving. Is cooking our foods with waves of energy even safe? Actually, yes. Despite common misconceptions that microwaving is "radioactive" or dangerous, it's very rare that a person would suffer from radiation injuries, and these would only be due to a faulty microwave or improper operation. Also, microwaves are a form of non-ionizing radiation, which means they don't have enough energy to cause damage to our bodies.
To avoid radiation leakage, be sure your microwave is functioning properly. Malfunctions that may put a user at risk for exposure to radiation leakage are a microwave that operates while the door is open or a damaged door, hinge, latch or seal. If your microwave is having any of these issues, the FDA recommends to immediately discontinue using it. It's also advised to report any safety issues to the microwave manufacturer, who is required to notify the FDA of the issue.
So, what about the nutrients in our foods? Do microwaves destroy them? Actually, microwaving can be one of the best ways to retain nutrients, if done correctly. When cooking certain vegetables, it is inevitable that heat will break down some nutrients. Using cooking methods with shorter cooking times, like microwaving, and cooking with minimal water can help prevent nutrients from leaching out of vegetables.
When microwaving your veggies, make sure to cook them with a small amount of water and until they are just steamed enough. Avoid overcooking them or using large amounts of water for steaming.
Microwaves are a convenient way to prepare foods in a pinch. From reheating leftovers to steaming vegetables and defrosting meats, the microwave is a practical appliance for the modern kitchen. With special care taken, heating foods with this handy tool can be quick, easy, nutritious and safe.
Abigail McAlister is a Registered Dietician and nutrition agent with LSU AgCenter. Her focus is adult nutrition education and promotion. Contact her at AMcAlister@agcenter.lsu.edu. Reprinted with permission, The Best of Times, Shreveport, Louisiana.