Danger of microwave ovens

  • What is Microwave Radiation?
  • Cooking with Microwaves
  • Avoiding Injuries from Super-Heated Water in Microwave Ovens
  • Microwave Oven Safety Standard
  • Microwave Ovens and Health
  • Have Radiation Injuries Resulted from Microwave Ovens?
  • Microwave Ovens and Pacemakers
  • Checking Ovens for Leakage and Other Radiation Safety Problems
  • How to Report Microwave Oven Radiation Safety Problems
  • Tips on Safe Microwave Oven Operation
  • Additional Information from FDA’s Consumer Health Information Staff

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has regulated the manufacture of microwave ovens since 1971. Microwave oven manufacturers are required to certify their products and meet safety performance standards created and enforced by the FDA to protect the public health. On the basis of current knowledge about microwave radiation, the Agency believes that ovens that meet the FDA standard and are used according to the manufacturer’s instructions are safe for use.

Contents

What is Microwave Radiation?

Microwaves are a form of “electromagnetic” radiation; that is, they are waves of electrical and magnetic energy moving together through space. Electromagnetic radiation spans a broad spectrum from very long radio waves to very short gamma rays. The human eye can only detect a small portion of this spectrum called visible light. A radio detects a different portion of the spectrum, and an X-ray machine uses yet another portion.

Visible light, microwaves, and radio frequency (RF) radiation are forms of non-ionizing radiation. Non-ionizing radiation does not have enough energy to knock electrons out of atoms. X-rays are a form of ionizing radiation. Exposure to ionizing radiation can alter atoms and molecules and cause damage to cells in organic matter.

Microwaves are used to detect speeding cars and to send telephone and television communications. Industry uses microwaves to dry and cure plywood, to cure rubber and resins, to raise bread and doughnuts, and to cook potato chips. But the most common consumer use of microwave energy is in microwave ovens. Microwaves have three characteristics that allow them to be used in cooking: they are reflected by metal; they pass through glass, paper, plastic, and similar materials; and they are absorbed by foods.

Cooking with Microwaves

Microwaves are produced inside the oven by an electron tube called a magnetron. The microwaves are reflected within the metal interior of the oven where they are absorbed by food. Microwaves cause water molecules in food to vibrate, producing heat that cooks the food. That’s why foods that are high in water content, like fresh vegetables, can be cooked more quickly than other foods. The microwave energy is changed to heat as it is absorbed by food, and does not make food “radioactive” or “contaminated.”

Although heat is produced directly in the food, microwave ovens do not cook food from the “inside out.” When thick foods are cooked, the outer layers are heated and cooked primarily by microwaves while the inside is cooked mainly by the conduction of heat from the hot outer layers.

Microwave cooking can be more energy efficient than conventional cooking because foods cook faster and the energy heats only the food, not the whole oven compartment. Microwave cooking does not reduce the nutritional value of foods any more than conventional cooking. In fact, foods cooked in a microwave oven may keep more of their vitamins and minerals, because microwave ovens can cook more quickly and without adding water.

Glass, paper, ceramic, or plastic containers are used in microwave cooking because microwaves pass through these materials. Although such containers cannot be heated by microwaves, they can become hot from the heat of the food cooking inside. Some plastic containers should not be used in a microwave oven because they can be melted by the heat of the food inside. Generally, metal pans or aluminum foil should also not be used in a microwave oven, as the microwaves are reflected off these materials causing the food to cook unevenly and possibly damaging the oven. The instructions that come with each microwave oven indicate the kinds of containers to use. They also cover how to test containers to see whether or not they can be used in microwave ovens.

Avoiding Injuries from Super-Heated Water in Microwave Ovens

The FDA received reports in the past of serious skin burns or scalding injuries around people’s hands and faces as a result of hot water erupting out of a cup after it had been overheated in a microwave oven. Super-heated water (water heated past its boiling temperature) does not appear to be boiling and occurs when water is heated by itself in a clean cup. If super-heating has occurred, a slight disturbance or movement such as picking up the cup, or pouring in a spoon full of instant coffee, may result in a violent eruption with the boiling water exploding out of the cup. Adding substances such as instant coffee or sugar before heating greatly reduces this risk.

Users should closely follow the precautions and recommendations provided in the microwave oven instruction manuals, specifically regarding heating times. Users should make sure that they do not exceed the recommended heating times when determining the best time settings to heat water to the desired temperature.

Microwave Oven Safety Standard

Through its Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), the FDA sets and enforces standards of performance for electronic products to assure that radiation emissions do not pose a hazard to public health.

A Federal standard (21 CFR 1030.10) limits the amount of microwaves that can leak from an oven throughout its lifetime to 5 milliwatts (mW) of microwave radiation per square centimeter at approximately 2 inches from the oven surface. This limit is far below the level known to harm people. Microwave energy also decreases dramatically as you move away from the source of radiation. A measurement made 20 inches from an oven would be approximately 1/100th of the value measured at 2 inches from the oven.

The standard also requires all ovens to have two independent interlock systems that stop the production of microwaves the moment the latch is released or the door is opened. In addition, a monitoring system stops oven operation in case one or both of the interlock systems fail.

All ovens must have a label stating that they meet the safety standard. In addition, the FDA requires that all ovens have a label explaining precautions for use. This requirement may be dropped if the manufacturer has proven that the oven will not exceed the allowable leakage limit even if used under the conditions cautioned against on the label.

To make sure the standard is met, FDA tests microwave ovens in its own laboratory. The FDA also evaluates manufacturers’ radiation testing and quality control programs at their factories.

Microwave Ovens and Health

Microwave radiation can heat body tissue the same way it heats food. Exposure to high levels of microwaves can cause a painful burn. Two areas of the body, the eyes and the testes, are particularly vulnerable to RF heating because there is relatively little blood flow in them to carry away excess heat. Additionally, the lens of the eye is particularly sensitive to intense heat, and exposure to high levels of microwaves can cause cataracts. But these types of injuries – burns and cataracts – can only be caused by exposure to large amounts of microwave radiation.

Consumers should take common sense precautions regarding handling of hot foods and beverages. For more safety recommendations see the section of this page titled: Tips on Safe Microwave Oven Operation.

Have Radiation Injuries Resulted from Microwave Ovens?

Most injuries related to microwave ovens are the result of heat-related burns from hot containers, overheated foods, or exploding liquids. Most injuries are not radiation-related. That said, there have been very rare instances of radiation injury due to unusual circumstances or improper servicing. In general, microwave oven radiation injuries are caused by exposure to large amounts of microwave radiation leaking through openings such as gaps in the microwave oven seals. However, FDA regulations require that microwave ovens are designed to prevent these high level radiation leaks.

Microwave Ovens and Pacemakers

At one time there was concern that radiation leakage from microwave ovens could interfere with certain electronic cardiac pacemakers. Similar concerns were raised about pacemaker interference from electric shavers, auto ignition systems, and other electronic products. While FDA does not specifically require microwave ovens to carry warnings for people with pacemakers, this problem has largely been resolved as today’s pacemakers are designed to shield against such electrical interference. However, patients with pacemakers are encouraged to consult their physicians if they have concerns.

Checking Ovens for Leakage and Other Radiation Safety Problems

There is little cause for concern about excess microwaves leaking from ovens unless the door hinges, latch, or seals are damaged. The FDA recommends looking at your oven carefully, and not using an oven if the door doesn’t close firmly or is bent, warped, or otherwise damaged.

The FDA also monitors appliances for radiation safety issues and has received reports of microwave ovens that appear to stay on – and operate – while the door is open. When operating as intended, microwave ovens have safety features to prevent them from continuing to generate microwaves if the door is open. However, if an oven does continue to operate with the door open, consumers cannot be 100 percent sure that microwave radiation is not being emitted. Thus, if this occurs, the FDA recommends immediately discontinuing use of the oven.

How to Report Microwave Oven Radiation Safety Problems

If you suspect a radiation safety problem with your microwave oven, you may contact the microwave oven manufacturer. Manufacturers who discover that any microwave ovens produced, assembled, or imported by them have a defect or fail to comply with an applicable Federal standard are required to immediately notify FDA. In addition, manufacturers/importers are required to report all accidental radiation occurrences to the FDA, unless the incident is associated with a defect or noncompliance that has previously been reported (21 CFR 1002.20).

You may also report any suspected radiation-related problems or injuries to the FDA by completing and mailing the Accidental Radiation Occurrence Report form.

Tips on Safe Microwave Oven Operation

  • Follow the manufacturer’s instruction manual for recommended operating procedures and safety precautions for your oven model.
  • Use microwave safe cookware specially manufactured for use in the microwave oven.
  • Don’t operate a microwave oven if the door does not close firmly or is bent, warped, or otherwise damaged.
  • Stop using a microwave oven if it continues to operate with the door open.
  • As an added safety precaution, don’t stand directly against an oven (and don’t allow children to do this) for long periods of time while it is operating.
  • Do not heat water or liquids in the microwave oven longer than recommended in the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Some ovens should not be operated when empty. Refer to the instruction manual for your oven.
  • Regularly clean the oven cavity, the outer edge of the cavity, and the door with water and a mild detergent. A special microwave oven cleaner is not necessary. Be sure to not use scouring pads, steel wool, or other abrasives.

For more consumer information on microwave oven radiation, contact the Staff of the Division of Industry and Consumer Education (DICE) by email at [email protected]

Additional Information from FDA’s Consumer Health Information Staff

  • FDA Consumer Update: 5 Tips for Using Your Microwave Oven Safely
Microwave Facts

Microwaves are radio waves with frequencies ranging from around 300 million cycles per second (300 MHz) to 3 GHz. RF. A standard measure of exposure for microwave energy is the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) or rate of tissue energy absorption measured in watts per kilogram of tissue.

  • Microwave radiation leakage can damage human cells and tissues.
  • All appliances working on electricity produce a toxic electromagnetic field (EMF) of approximately 60 hertz. This is over and above potential microwave leakage from appliances or devices.
Microwave ovens can leak

Microwave leakage is serious enough that the FDA sets strict limits on it for the manufacturers. But once door seals age, leaking tends to exceed those limits, often at head level. That’s bad news, because the microwave energy inside a microwave oven is massive!

  • Frequency inside your microwave 2.45 BILLION hertz.
  • Frequency shown to start harming the human body: over 10 hertz

That’s 2.45 billion vs. 10 hertz. It doesn’t take very big leak for the damage to begin. (One top culprit: aging door seals)

The facts about microwaves & cataracts
  • Eyes are especially vulnerable to microwaves. That’s because unlike other areas of the body, they lack the blood vessels to dissipate the heat and cellular stress.
  • The first suspected clinical case of microwave-caused cataracts was reported by Hirsch and Parker as early as 1950’s. (Sulman 1980).
  • For decades, cataracts have been reported in workers exposed to this type of radiation. (On the back of the lens where radiation cataracts usually occur.)
What do microwaves do to food?

In a microwave oven, alternating current forces atoms reverse polarity at a startlingly high rate. This creates such violent friction that the water inside the food molecules begin to vibrate and heat up.

The dangers of microwaved foods.

Microwaves break chemical and molecular bonds, and can literally rip atoms apart, disrupting the basic biochemical structures of life. It’s no wonder foods cooked in such a way become so harmful to consume.Government and industry studies suggest they pose no threat, but a growing body of knowledge now contradicts those claims.

Microwaved foods lose nutrition.

The Swiss scientist Hans Hertel, was the first to study microwave dangers, specifically, how cooking degrades and depletes food of nutrients—an effect that shows up in study participants’ blood samples.

Microwaving makes food unhealthy

When the microwave radiation destroys and deforms food molecules, new harmful compounds form (radiolytic compounds). These dangerous compounds harm the body in many ways.

Microwaved meals change blood chemistry

The research, from Search for Health (Spring, 1992): After study participants consumed microwaved vegetables, Swiss Scientist Hertel measured the following effects:

  • Cholesterol levels increased rapidly.
  • Hemoglobin decreased significantly (creating anemic tendencies.)
  • Lymphocytes (white blood cells) showed a significant term decrease.
  • Increased stress (evidence by the increase of leukocyte)
  • NOTE: Leukocyte response can indicate pathogenic effects such as poisoning and cell damage.
Microwaving human breast milk

The research, from Pediatrics (vol. 89, no. 4, April 1992) on microwaving human breast milk:

  • Cuts down on lysozyme activity
  • Reduces key antibodies
  • Promotes potentially dangerous bacteria.
  • Milk heated to 72 degrees lost a full 96% of all immunoglobulin-A antibodies, which fight invading microbes.

Researcher’s conclusion: microwaving likely reduces and reverses the potential benefits of food, above and beyond the harm heating itself causes.

Another study of microwave problems reported in the medical journal, The Lancet, showed that when infant formula was microwaved for ten minutes, it altered the structure of its component amino acids, possibly resulting in functional, structural and immunological abnormalities.

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The Two Sides of the Story: Is Microwave Radiation Harmful?

Jul 12, 2017 · 7 min read

When using a microwave to heat baby milk was banned in the USA, it sent a clear message: this device is potentially dangerous. It was quickly explained that the ban was intended to avoid the risk of toddlers being burned, because the heated fluid has a much higher temperature than the container that it is in, and the carer’s carefulness often leaves much to be desired. But the fear of microwaves nevertheless remained. Microwaves had been banned from use in the USSR (1976, which was repealed only after the change of regime) due to the risk of cancer. Perhaps they are harmful but we do not know for sure as there are no official scientific studies to confirm their harmfulness. Most people use microwaves with no apparent ill health effects but there are others who believe that microwave radiation might be harmful.

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Nowadays, many people, especially those who are leading a ‘fast’ lifestyle, cannot imagine reheating meals any other way than by using the microwave. Probably more or less the same number of people claim that dishes prepared in this way are unsavory and unhealthy, and that microwaves themselves are a source of harmful radiation. We will not be writing about the taste of dishes, because that is a matter of preference, but will instead focus on how microwaves work and how they heat dishes.

As the name of the device suggests, microwaves heat meals using electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength of about 12 cm. The radiation is absorbed by the water molecules in each dish. They start to oscillate (rotational oscillation) absorbing the energy of the absorbed microwaves. However, these vibrations are strongly suppressed by other substances (chemicals) surrounding the water molecules contained in the meal that is being heated. As a result of this mechanical interaction (resembling the behavior of a mixer in a dough bowl), the previously absorbed energy is transferred back to the meal, with which the microwave radiation does not interact directly, causing it to heat up. Also, the warming of the container is a secondary effect, as microwave containers do not absorb radiation of such frequencies.

Microwave radiation creates a standing wave inside the oven, magnetron waves emanate from the opposite side of the oven. This means that some places in the dish will be heated significantly (where the arrows of the standing wave, i.e. the peak of the wave, are), while others in the places of wave nodes (with zero amplitude intensity) will remain cold. To avoid such uneven heating of dishes, they are placed on rotating stands or an additional rotating reflector is used and changes the distribution of intensity within the oven.

The phenomenon of microwave interactions with food (water) was accidentally discovered by the American Percy Spencer while he was working on the construction of radar equipment. When experimenting with a magnetron, which is the source of microwaves also in the home appliance, he felt that the chocolate bar in his trousers started melting. On the other hand, an egg exposed to microwaves exploded. These troublesome events made it possible for him to launch the first microwave oven in 1947. Its dimensions differed significantly from today’s models, as its weighed in at 338 kg and was 1.65 m high. The first devices were water-cooled which meant that their use was restricted to bars and restaurants only.

There are a lot of opinions about the harmfulness of food that is prepared using microwave ovens as well as their negative impact on people nearby. However, research has shown that no chemical changes (changes in molecular structure) occurred as a result of the microwaves passing through the food. Also, microwaves do not have a significant impact on the health and well-being of their users. A microwave oven forms a so-called Faraday’s cage whose metal construction blocks all electromagnetic waves from flowing outside of the device. The properties of the cage are not negated even if a glass (plastic) door is used through which we can observe the dishes inside. This is because the door is covered with a metal mesh that is considerably smaller than the microwave wavelength, which prevents the waves from being emitted outside of the oven. On the other hand, opening the door automatically turns the device off. It is interesting that the Soviet Union introduced a ban on the use of microwave ovens in 1976, due to the risk of cancer that was discovered by Soviet scientists. This was also partly due to much stricter standards than those that had been adopted in Western Europe.

Before using a microwave oven for the first time, it is advisable to read the operating instructions and safe handling rules carefully, focusing on the information concerning the containers that may be used and directions on how to cook or defrost food.

Some people say that if the reports of the harmfulness of microwaves were true, then considerable evidence would support that claim. They say that the black PR of the microwave stems from mindless repetition of claims that were not fully tested. Microwaves are electromagnetic waves — much the same as radio waves, light, infrared, ultraviolet and X-rays. But unlike the last two, microwaves do not damage the structure of chemical compounds. Isolated portions of the electromagnetic wave (called photons), in the case of microwaves, are unable to change the structure of any molecule in a living organism because they carry too little energy.

Yes, if you expose your body to an enormous stream of photons that correspond to a high intensity wave, you can expect a significant increase in the temperature of your body. For example, the proteins may break down but exactly the same factor, high temperature, leads to their congealing in the pan! Microwaves are just as dangerous as the light emitted from a bulb. If we touch it, we will be burned, but we are safe when we keep our distance. So, if the microwave is not damaged, then it will not emit hazardous microwaves. And the probability of a breakdown of a microwave oven is no different than that of, for example, washing machines breaking down and receiving electric shocks during washing.

Some research suggests that electromagnetic radiation (every microwave has a radioactive source comparable to an airborne radar) has a carcinogenic effect (can cause cancer) and is mutagenic, it changes the DNA structure of humans. In theory, radiation is emitted only on the inside of the device. In practice, however, oven doors often leak. Therefore, the people waiting for dinner to warm up or operating the device all day, are at a higher risk of exposure.

The biological effects caused by microwave radiation can be serious, although not specific, so we often do not connect them with the cause. These might include: chronic fatigue, somnolence, trouble with concentration and memory, frequent headaches, also dysregulation of the hormonal and nervous system resulting in emotional instability and fertility problems.

Changes in the body under the influence of radiation also results in a decrease in immunity, and therefore increases the risk of infection and development of cancer cells. If you have to use microwaves, try not to stand close while they are on! Of course, every product that is rolled out on the market must meet the standards that limit how much radiation they can emit. Devices are tested before they leave the factory but during frequent use, the door’s electromagnetic seal will inevitably wear out and waves could at that point, be emitted from the device. Microwave radiation is not visible, there is no clear signal that something is not functioning properly. If there is a dishwasher or washing machine, we have telltale signs of malfunction, e.g. water on the floor, whereas in the case of microwave ovens malfunctions usually remain unnoticed.

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Wikipedia (Unknown) Percy Spencer https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Percy_Spencer (Accessed 26/06/2017)

Wikipedia (Unknown) Definition of a faraday cage https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faraday_cage (Accessed 26/06/2017)

Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (Unknown) Microwaves Ovens and Health

http://www.arpansa.gov.au/RadiationProtection/Factsheets/is_Microwave.cfm#6 (Accessed 26/06/2017)

Reaching for a frozen entrée from your freezer, reading the simple directions on the back, and popping it into the microwave oven can lead to a meal that took a total of three minutes. And it’s a modern convenience utilized in many American households. According to The Southwest Museum of Engineering, Communication and Computation (SMECC), more than 95 percent of American homes own a microwave oven because it is seen as “almost impossible/pretty difficult” to do without.

Here’s the rub: while your frozen meal may consist of Lean Cuisine-type products with healthy ingredients and low calories, the way you cook your food directly affects the amount of nutrients your body consumes. This common household appliance can significantly zap the nutritional value of your food and your health, leaving you susceptible to developing health complications due to continuous microwave use, and begging the question: is convenience worth sacrificing your health?

Read More: Tired And Hungry: Brain Scans Point To Why Sleep Deprivation Triggers Junk Food Eating

Microwaves Zap Food Nutrition

Heating your food in the microwave can strip away its original nutrients. What may have started as a nutritious plate of food has now evolved into “dead food” due to the dielectric heating of microwaves. “They bounce around the inside of your oven and are absorbed by the food you put in it,” writes Dr. Joseph M. Mercola, licensed physician and surgeon. The water molecules rotate rapidly in the microwave and in the food in high frequencies which creates molecular friction and heats up your food. This causes the molecular structure in your food to change, and as a result diminishes the nutrient content in the food.

Microwaves Destroy Breast Milk And Vitamin B-12

The health benefits of vitamin B-12 are instantly negated once heated in a microwave. In a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers decided to examine the effects of microwave heating on the loss of vitamin B-12 in foods like raw beef, pork, and milk. The results of the study show there was a 30 to 40 percent loss of the vitamin when the foods received microwave exposure. The shift of vitamin B-12 to an inactive form of the vitamin was found in foods during the microwave heating process.

The powerful bacteria-fighting agents in breast milk are also destroyed by microwave heating. Findings published in the journal Pediatrics examined the common practice of using a microwave to heat frozen human milk for convenience in intensive care nurseries. Researchers tested 22 freshly frozen human milk samples to test them for lysozyme activity and antibodies by heating the samples for 30 seconds on either a low or high power setting. Breast milk microwaved at high temperatures was found to have greater E coli growth — 18 more times than the control (unmicrowaved) breast milk. Microwaving at low temperatures also dramatically decreased lysozyme activity and also promoted the growth of harmful bacteria for babies.

Microwaves Create Carcinogens In Food

When you head foods that are wrapped in plastic in the microwave, you can create carcinogens in the food. Based on Russian research and German studies, the Russian government issued a warning about the health hazards microwave ovens can have on the human body and the environment. The assembling of microwavable foods are found to contain toxic chemicals such as BPA, polyethylene terpthalate (PET), benzene, toluene, and xylene says Foodbabe.com. The plastic containers used to heat these microwave meals have been found to release the carcinogens along with other harmful toxins into your food which is then absorbed by your body.

Read More: Surprising Beer Ingredients: GMO Corn And Carcinogens

Microwaves Can Change the Makeup of Your Blood

In a Swiss clinical study, researchers found that blood changes in individuals who consumed microwaved milk and vegetables. The eight participants in the study ate a series of food prepared in different ways, including food heated in the microwave. The results of the study showed red blood cells decreased while white cell levels increased, along with cholesterol levels. The non-ionizing radiation of the microwave can affect changes in your blood and your heart rate.

Microwaves Can Change Your Heart Rate

Microwaves can produce effects on your body instantly due to the 2.4 GHz radiation — the frequency of radiation emitted by microwave ovens. A study conducted by Dr. Magda Havas of Trent University found the levels of radiation emitted by a microwave affect both heart rate and heart rate variability. These levels are within federal safety guidelines but tend to cause immediate and dramatic changes in heart rate. If you experience irregular heart beat or any chest pain and regularly eat microwaved food, it might be best to discontinue use.

Read More: Heart Disease Mortality Rates Declined In Europe Over The Past 30 Years; Is Awareness Improving?

Photo: AndreyPopov (iStock) Burning QuestionsBurning QuestionsBurning Questions is The Takeout’s Q&A feature that satiates your food and drink curiosities

For an appliance that exists in 97% of American kitchens, the microwave is a black box to most of us. Functionally, an oven is straightforward enough to understand (air gets hot; put food in), as is a dishwasher (put plate in; water rinses). But we stand before our microwaves equal parts wary and credulous, with the internet always ready to assist in the perpetual cycle of spreading and debunking every urban myth about them.

You might have been warned as a kid about all the Very Important Microwave Rules: Don’t microwave foil, don’t microwave utensils, don’t microwave plastic, don’t microwave anything for too long, don’t stand near the microwave, don’t open the door before pressing the stop button, cover everything you microwave to prevent splatter, but don’t cover anything too tightly, and for God’s sake, if you’re going to microwave bacon, put 8,000 paper towels underneath it to catch the grease. But none of these warnings really tell you what you need to know: Are microwaves dangerous, actually?

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Glad you asked. The answer will cost you a strip of that bacon.

We’ve already covered how microwaves work in this handy explainer about why we can’t put metal in the microwave. Quick recap: Microwave ovens produce a type of light that vibrates water molecules in your food, and the energy of those vibrating, colliding molecules is absorbed into food in the form of heat. This also means that both beverages and foods with a higher water content heat up much faster. And according to the FDA, that’s what actually causes the vast majority of microwave-related injuries: We’re getting scalded by reaching for our overheated foods too fast. Can we really blame the microwave for that? It’s easily avoided. Just let the food sit for a moment after you hear the ding, and go conservative on your cooking times. You can always add a quick 30 seconds if needed. (Another note here: If a plastic container is “not microwave safe,” that doesn’t mean the microwaves themselves turn the plastic into something radioactive and dangerous. It just means that the hot food within the container can melt the plastic, the way it could if it were heated any other way.)

The microwaves that cook your food are being generated by a device in the back of the oven called a magnetron, which contains a small amount of radioactive metal to function. So, is that dangerous? Not really. As the World Health Organization notes, the part of the process that involves radioactive metal is separated from you and your food the entire time. The electromagnetic radiation happening inside the magnetron produces microwaves, which are shuttled through a tube into the food chamber while any potential toxins are safely contained behind the scenes. Indeed, the magnetron rests in a part of your microwave that you can’t even access with normal household tools—the screws and bolts separating you from the guts of your microwave are tamper-proof.

Because microwaves excite water molecules in your food, it stands to reason that humans, who are 70% water, could be badly burned by the same microwaves. True! But the FDA and the microwave manufacturers of the world are pretty good at making sure those waves don’t reach you in the first place. Modern microwave ovens are protected by two separate security mechanisms that shut down wave production the moment that any break in the door seal or latch is detected. That means you’re technically safe when you yank the microwave door open instead of pressing the “stop” button first—but it’s worth noting that, because the whole system had to enact an emergency override when you pulled open the door, you’re more liable to break your microwave by doing that repeatedly. (The “stop” button is there for a reason! Just use it!)

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So, you won’t get burned if you sneak up on your active microwave and throw the door open. But what if you’re so excited about reheating your leftovers that you gaze upon them from close range while they warm up? Does standing in front of microwaves pose a risk? If the microwave is functioning properly, then no. The FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health sets limits on the amount of microwave radiation that can leak out beyond the chamber of the oven. The federal limit is 5 milliwatts per square centimeter, and even that’s only permitted at a distance of 2 inches from the microwave. Even if you’re nose-to-nose with the thing, 5 mW is far, far less than any amount of microwave radiation capable of harming a human being. (For context, the food inside the microwave is being heated with somewhere between 500-1,100 watts of energy.) If you’re a skeptic who thinks that your microwave might be the one rogue appliance that decided not to abide FDA limitations, consider two things: First, the FDA tests the ovens in a controlled laboratory once the appliance manufacturer has already done so. Second, any leakage beyond 5 mW would probably point to a break in the door seal, and the door seal, remember, includes those dual safety systems that shut off microwaves when the seal is broken. So, never operate a microwave capable of functioning while its door is open, and you should be fine.

Do you have a pacemaker? No reason to worry about that, either. Pacemakers, like microwave ovens themselves, still suffer from the initial rumors that swirled around their debut. But modern pacemakers have hermetically sealed cases covered in enough insulated coating that these devices are pretty unequivocally safe around microwaves.

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So, excluding typical injuries like burning your mouth on reheated pizza, here’s what we’ve learned you’d have to do to be harmed by your microwave:

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  • Bust into your microwave’s back end with a tamper-proof wrench and snort magnetron filament
  • Become a contortionist, crawl into the microwave, then have someone close the door and select the “baked potato” setting
  • Same as above, plus a fistful of forks
  • Pouring water all over the wall socket it’s plugged into
  • Any number of bad ideas that this user manual might accidentally inspire (see page 4 for the prudent advice, “Do not store combustible items… in the oven, because if lightning strikes the power lines it may cause the oven to turn on.”)

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But we hope it doesn’t come to this. If your microwave is functioning normally, and you use it for cooking or reheating food in microwave-safe containers (never for YouTube pranks and viral experimentation), then no electromagnetic boogeyman will come for you. It’s an appliance just like any other: keep it clean and well-maintained, and it should treat you pretty well. As long as you remember to push the damn “stop” button.

THE FACTS

Considering how long microwave ovens have been around, one would think that any concerns about their safety would have been resolved long ago. But many people continue to wonder whether standing next to a microwave while it’s on can expose them to radiation — and if so, how much.

Although microwave ovens can in fact leak radiation, the levels that might be released are fairly minute.

According to the Center for Devices and Radiological Health, a unit of the Food and Drug Administration that regulates microwave oven safety, every microwave that reaches the market must meet a requirement limiting the amount of radiation it can leak in its lifetime to five milliwatts per square centimeter at roughly two inches away from the oven. According to the center, that is far below the levels of radiation that have been shown to harm humans.

(By comparison, the most common cellphones operate at a peak power of about 1.6 watts or less, and most studies have found no evidence linking the phones to health problems.)

Microwave cooking and nutrition

Microwave cooking may be quick and easy – but are microwaves safe for your food?

Updated: February 6, 2019Published: January, 2015

Are microwaves bad for your health? Almost every American home has a microwave oven. The convenience they offer is undeniable. But despite the widespread use of microwave ovens and their excellent safety record, some people have lingering doubts that cooking food with microwaves somehow makes food less healthy by zapping the nutrients out of food. Does cooking with microwaves do that? Is microwave food healthy?

How microwave cooking works

Understanding how microwave ovens work can help clarify the answer to these common questions. Microwave ovens cook food using waves of energy that are similar to radio waves but shorter. These waves are remarkably selective, primarily affecting water and other molecules that are electrically asymmetrical — one end positively charged and the other negatively charged. Microwaves cause these molecules to vibrate and quickly build up thermal (heat) energy.

Are microwaves safe for cooking your food?

Some nutrients break down when they’re exposed to heat, whether it is from a microwave or a regular oven. Vitamin C is perhaps the clearest example. But because microwave cooking times are shorter, cooking with a microwave does a better job of preserving vitamin C and other nutrients that break down when heated.

As far as vegetables go, cooking them in water robs them of some of their nutritional value because the nutrients leach out into the cooking water. For example, boiled broccoli loses glucosinolate, the sulfur-containing compound that may give the vegetable its cancer-fighting properties (as well as the taste that many find distinctive and some find disgusting). Is steaming vegetables — even microwave steaming — better? In some respects, yes. For example, steamed broccoli holds on to more glucosinolate than boiled or fried broccoli.

Are microwaves bad for your health?

The cooking method that best retains nutrients is one that cooks quickly, heats food for the shortest amount of time, and uses as little liquid as possible. Microwaving meets those criteria. Using the microwave with a small amount of water essentially steams food from the inside out. That keeps in more vitamins and minerals than almost any other cooking method and shows microwave food can indeed be healthy.

But let’s not get too lost in the details. Vegetables, pretty much any way you prepare them, are good for you, and most of us don’t eat enough of them. And is the microwave oven good or bad? The microwave is a marvel of engineering, a miracle of convenience — and sometimes nutritionally advantageous to boot.

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5 Reasons People Still Refuse to Own a Microwave Oven

The microwave oven has become as common as the dishwasher or the toaster in kitchens worldwide, but some folks are still suspicious of them. Fernando Camino/Getty Images

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Do you have a friend who doesn’t own a microwave oven? Are you that friend? Here in the 21st century, about 90 percent of U.S. households have microwaves, but though they offer speedy cook times and a lot of convenience and energy efficiency, some people eschew them with a firm hand. But why? Here are five reasons — some myth-based and some based in reality — for persistent, 21st-century microwave dissing:

1. Takes up precious counter space

Some microwave ovens are big. Not as big as the first commercial microwave ever, the Raytheon Radarange, which was 6 feet (1.8 meters) tall and weighed over 700 pounds (320 kilograms). But today’s microwaves can still be big enough to seriously throw off the feng shui in your kitchen.

2. Concern it emits harmful radiation

When a product becomes pervasive enough to spawn other consumer product industries (microwave popcorn and burritos, anyone?) you know it’s going to have its detractors — especially when you have to use the word “radiation” to describe how it works.

But “radiation” is just a term used to describe waves of energy on the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes radio waves, visible light and X-rays. Microwave ovens work by emitting microwave radiation, the wavelengths of which are just a little shorter than the radio waves used in radar technology. These waves are used to jiggle water molecules inside food millions of times per second, while rubbing them together in the same way we rub our hands together for warmth. This can create a whole lot of heat very quickly.

Even though certain wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum are very dangerous, microwaves are pretty benign.

3. Fear it zaps food’s nutrients

In the film “American Hustle,” Jennifer Lawrence’s character Rosalyn Rosenfeld receives a microwave oven as a gift. She calls it a “science oven” and promptly tries to use it to heat a foil-covered casserole in an aluminum pan. After the resulting fire is extinguished, her exasperated husband asks her how she could be so stupid. She turns the tables on him: “You know, I read it takes all the nutrition right out of our food!”

Although the idea that microwaves destroy the nutrients in our food is about as old as the appliance itself, turns out the opposite is actually true. Food loses its nutritional value when it’s cooked in a lot of liquid at high heat for a long time. The good stuff in the food you eat is best preserved by cooking it quickly and using very little water, which is just what microwaves do. In fact, studies suggest that microwaves preserve nutrients like folic acid and antioxidants at a much higher rate than stovetop cooking.

4. It heats food unevenly

While conventional ovens heat food from the outside in, microwave ovens cook all areas of the food at once. But since microwaves are calibrated to focus on heating water, and the water in your food isn’t always distributed evenly, the cooking method can heat unevenly. Protein, fat and starch molecules heat more slowly than water, and the presence of a bunch of salt prolongs cooking times as well. So, it might take only a couple of minutes to take that microwave meal from ice cube to fragrant, bubbly lunch, but expect pockets of ice crystals and molten cheese. Or just, you know, stir it a few times while you’re cooking it.

5. Doesn’t kill bacteria that might be present

Although you probably shouldn’t be chowing down on contaminated food anyway, reheating can definitely kill some of the bad bacteria if you’re just hell-bent on eating those two-week-old Thai leftovers. In this case, the problem with the microwave is it heats pretty unevenly, as previously discussed. Eating contaminated food is a terrible idea to begin with, but know the microwave won’t be doing you any favors on the bacteria-killing front because it doesn’t heat all your food to the same high, bacteria-killing temperature.

10 Reasons to Toss Your Microwave Now (#1 is Shocking; #3 Explains a Sad Reality)

In most cases, the foods used for research analysis were exposed to microwave propagation at an energy potential of 100 kilowatts/cm3/second, to the point considered acceptable for sanitary, normal ingestion. The effects noted by both German and Russian researchers is presented in three categories:

  • Category I, Cancer-Causing Effects
  • Category II, Nutritive Destruction of Foods
  • Category III, Biological Effects of Exposure

CATEGORY I

CANCER-CAUSING EFFECTS

  • Creation of a “binding effect” to radioactivity in the atmosphere, thus causing a marked increase in the amount of alpha and beta particle saturation in foods
  • Creation of cancer causing agents within protein hydrolysate compounds* in milk and cereal grains
  • Alteration of elemental food-substances, causing disorders in the digestive system by unstable catabolism* of foods subjected to microwaves
  • Due to chemical alterations within food substances, malfunctions were observed within the lymphatic systems , causing a degeneration of the immune potentials of the body to protect against certain forms of neoplastics
  • Ingestion of microwaved foods caused a higher percentage of cancerous cells within the blood serum
  • Microwave emissions caused alteration in the catabolic behavior of glucoside and galactoside elements within frozen fruits when thawed in this manner
  • Microwave emission caused alteration of the catabolic behavior of plant alkaloids when raw, cooked, or frozen vegetables were exposed for even extremely short durations
  • Cancer causing free radicals were formed within certain trace mineral molecular formations in plant substances, and in particular, raw root-vegetables; and
  • In a statistically high percentage of persons, microwaved foods caused stomach and intestinal cancerous growths, as well as a general degeneration of peripheral cellular tissues, with a gradual breakdown of the function of the digestive and excretive systems.

CATEGORY II

DECREASE IN FOOD VALUE

  1. Microwave exposure caused significant decreases in the nutritive value of all foods researched. The following are the most important findings:
  2. A decrease in the bioavailability of B-complex vitamins, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, essential minerals and lipotropics in all foods
  3. A loss of 60-90% of the vital energy field content of all tested foods
  4. A reduction in the metabolic behavior and integration process capability of alkaloids , glucosides and galactosides, and nitrilosides
  5. A destruction of the nutritive value of nucleoproteins in meats
  6. A marked acceleration of structural disintegration in all foods.

CATEGORY III

BIOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF EXPOSURE

Exposure to microwave emissions also had an unpredictably negative effect upon the general biological welfare of humans. This was not discovered until the Russians experimented with highly sophisticated equipment and discovered that a human did not even need to ingest the material substance of the microwaved food substances: that even exposure to the energy-field itself was sufficient to cause such adverse side effects that the use of any such microwave apparatus was forbidden in 1976 by Soviet state law.

The following are the enumerated effects:

  • A breakdown of the human “life-energy field” in those who were exposed to microwave ovens while in operation, with side-effects to the human energy field of increasingly longer duration
  • A degeneration of the cellular voltage parallels during the process of using the apparatus, especially in the blood and lymphatic areas
  • A degeneration and destabilization of the external energy activated potentials of food utilization within the processes of human metabolism
  • A degeneration and destabilization of internal cellular membrane potentials while transferring catabolic processes into the blood serum from the digestive process
  • Degeneration and circuit breakdowns of electrical nerve impulses within the junction potentials of the cerebrum
  • A degeneration and breakdown of nerve electrical circuits and loss of energy field symmetry in the neuroplexuses both in the front and the rear of the central and autonomic nervous systems
  • Loss of balance and circuiting of the bioelectric strengths within the ascending reticular activating system
  • A long term cumulative loss of vital energies within humans, animals and plants that were located within a 500-meter radius of the operational equipment
  • Long lasting residual effects of magnetic “deposits” were located throughout the nervous system and lymphatic system
  • A destabilization and interruption in the production of hormones and maintenance of hormonal balance in males and females
  • Markedly higher levels of brainwave disturbance in the alpha, theta, and delta wave signal patterns of persons exposed to microwave emission fields

Because of this brainwave disturbance, negative psychological effects were noted, including loss of memory, loss of ability to concentrate, suppressed emotional threshold, deceleration of intellective processes, and interruptive sleep episodes in a statistically higher percentage of individuals subjected to continual range emissive field effects of microwave apparatus, either in cooking apparatus or in transmission stations.

Forensic Research Conclusions

From the twenty-eight above enumerated indications, the use of microwave apparatus is definitely not advisable; and, with the decision of the Soviet government in 1976, present scientific opinion in many countries concerning the use of such apparatus is clearly in evidence.

Due to the problem of random magnetic residulation and binding within the biological systems of the body (Category III:9), which can ultimately effect the neurological systems, primarily the brain and neuroplexuses (nerve centers), long term depolarization of tissue neuroelectric circuits can result. Because these effects can cause virtually irreversible damage to the neuroelectrical integrity of the various components of the nervous system (I. R. Luria, Novosibirsk 1975a), ingestion of microwaved foods is clearly contraindicated in all respects. Their magnetic residual effect can render the pyschoneural receptor components of the brain more subject to influence psychologically by artificially induced microwave radio frequency fields from transmission stations and TV relay-networks.

The theoretical possibility of psycho telemetric influence (the capability of affecting human behavior by transmitted radio signals at controlled frequencies) has been suggested by Soviet neuropsychological investigations at Uralyera and Novosibirsk (Luria and Perov, 1974a, 1975c, 1976a), which can cause involuntary subliminal psychological energy field compliance to operative microwave apparatus.

FORENSIC RESEARCH DOCUMENT
Prepared By: William P. Kopp
R. E. C. Research Operations
TO61-7R10/10-77F05
RELEASE PRIORITY: CLASS I ROO1a

Have you tossed out your microwave oven yet?

After you throw out your microwave you can use a toaster oven as a replacement. It works well for most and is nearly as quick.

The use of artificial microwave transmissions for subliminal psychological control, a.k.a. “brainwashing”, has also been proven. We’re attempting to obtain copies of the 1970’s Russian research documents and results written by Drs. Luria and Perov specifying their clinical experiments in this area.

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