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Microwaving Tidbits

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Additional Resources

Microwaving Tidbits - Tuesday, January 9, 2007Current estimates are that over 90% of US households contain a microwave oven. This type of oven uses microwave radiation to cause molecules in the food to vibrate and rotate -- producing heat and cooking the food quickly. Microwave heating works more efficiently on water and liquids than fats and sugars.

Microwaves are part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The waves are fairly short; their wavelengths are shorter than those of television or radio waves but longer than those found in visible light, gamma rays, or x-rays. The microwaves travel at the speed of light (as all electromagnetic waves do), and they easily pass through nonmetal containers.

Advantages and disadvantages of microwave cooking:
  • Advantages
  • Disadvantages

When cooking in a microwave oven, remember to arrange food items evenly. Use a covered dish and add some liquid if needed. Only use dishes, bowls, or containers that are labeled as "microwave safe". Microwave-safe plastic wrap should be used. Vent the plastic wrap or loosen the lid of the container to allow steam to escape. Food may heat unevenly in a microwave oven, so it is important to rotate or stir it midway through the cooking process. If the microwave oven is being used to defrost or to partially cook food, immediately transfer the microwaved food to the other heat source for completion of cooking. Do not partially cook food in a microwave oven and store it for later use, as this may allow bacteria to grow in the partially cooked food.

A food thermometer can be used to ensure that the item has been cooked thoroughly. Red meat should reach a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit (F), while poultry should reach a temperature of 180 degrees F. Fish can be assumed to be thoroughly cooked when it flakes with a fork. Cooking stuffed, whole poultry in the microwave oven is not recommended. If this is done, the stuffing may not reach a sufficient temperature to destroy harmful bacteria.

After heating food in a microwave oven, allow it to sit for a few minutes before consuming, to complete the cooking process.

It has been shown that chemicals in plastic and plastic wrap can migrate into food with which it comes into contact during microwave heating. A resin that helps make plastic wraps stretchy and clingy is called polyvinyl chloride (PVC). This is one compound that can seep into food during microwave cooking, especially if the food is high in fat. It is unclear at this time what effects such chemicals can have on your health, when ingested in small quantities. It is cogent to take precautions to limit exposure to such chemicals that may be found in plastics. It is important to only utilize cookware that is specifically designed for use in a microwave oven. Glass, plastics, and ceramic containers should bear a label or indication that they are "microwave safe". Never use unspecialized plastic or foam containers or one-time use containers, such as margarine tubs, whipped topping bowls, or restaurant takeout containers, to heat food in a microwave oven. These containers can warp or melt in the process of heating, and this may lead to harmful chemicals entering the food. Use plastic wraps that are microwave safe, and it is better to not let the plastic wrap touch foods during the microwaving process. Do not re-use plastic wrap. Consider cooking the food by another means than microwave, when practical.

Microwave-safe plastic wraps, cooking bags, and wax paper are available, as are white microwave-safe paper towels. Never use thin plastic storage bags ("baggies"), plastic grocery bags, or newspaper in the microwave oven. Tin foil and aluminum foil (and metals, in general, depending upon shape) can cause sparks in microwave ovens, and should therefore not be used in them.

Other microwave safety tips:

A potentially beneficial role for microwaving has been found in the cooking of muscle meats, such as steaks and hamburgers: Cooking muscle meats at the high temperatures that are common with frying, broiling, and barbecuing can produce cancer-causing (carcinogenic) compounds called heterocyclic amines. Microwaving and partially cooking these meats reduces the amount of heterocyclic amines that are eventually formed once the meat is grilled, fried, or broiled.

Read more about the microwave oven:

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