Do Microwave Ovens Really Cause Cancer?

Microwaves are quick, convenient and in most Canadian homes. But, just how safe are they?

Microwave ovens are frequently used to thaw, cook and re-heat food. In general, microwaves, compared to conventional ovens, take only about 20% of the time to cook an item of food and use at least 20% less energy while doing so. However, more and more, people are starting to question the safety of this common household item – specifically if harmful chemicals are formed during use and if the nutritional value of food cooked in a microwave is compromised.

Currently, there is no known research that has found that microwave ovens create cancer-causing substances. Additionally, studies have shown that food cooked in a microwave is just as safe as food cooked using alternative methods. An interesting tidbit – food cooked in a microwave may also retain more vitamins, nutrients and minerals when compared to food that is boiled.

However, there are still a few potential dangers that need to be considered when using microwaves:

Uneven Heating
Food cooked in a traditional oven is heated by the surrounding hot air while food cooked in a microwave is heated by an alternating electric field. The alternating electric field is not uniform and can result in uneven heating of food. Uneven heating means that there are hot and cold spots in the food. Improvements have been made to the microwave which minimizes the unevenness of heat distribution. However, there are a few things you can do to minimize the risk of hot and cold spots in your food:
– allow food to stand for a while after taking it out of the microwave
– use shallow, round containers for cooking
– stir food at least once during the cooking time
– cut pieces of food into smaller pieces before putting it in the microwave

Food that is microwaved can cause burns due to escaping steam. To avoid burns, the following is recommended:
– do not heat baby bottles in the microwave as the contents can become extremely hot even when the bottle feels warm
– if using a plastic wrap while cooking, lift it slightly at the corner so that steam does not get trapped
– when opening bags after microwaving, open them away from your body
– follow recommended cooking times to prevent over-heating

Radiation Leaks
If the door of your microwave is broken and not sealing properly, there is a risk of a radiation leak. Even when they do happen, most leaks are small and won’t cause a significant health concern. To minimize the likelihood of a radiation risk:
– regularly check the microwave door to make sure that it is closing properly
– after cooking, clean the microwave and ensure that there is no food stuck in the seal of the door
– never tamper with the seal on the door of the microwave
– if you are concerned that the door is not closing correctly, either replace your microwave or take it to a service provider to have it looked at

General Microwave Safety Tips
In addition to always following the manufacturer’s instructions, use the following safety tips when using a microwave oven:
1. Only use microwave safe containers – do not use take-out containers or tubs that certain foods come in (i.e. margarine, ice cream, etc.)
2. Use oven mitts when removing hot containers from the microwave
3. Clean microwave after use, especially if there was any spillage
4. Closely supervise young children that use the microwave

If you follow the guidelines above, the use of a microwave can save you a headache when you’re short on time and want a quick, hot meal!