Microwaves have been around since the 1960s, but they have long-suffered from erroneous suspicions that their radioactive mechanisms are harmful.
This is understandable since the word radiation inspires caution and fear for many. However, microwaves operate using non-ionizing radiation. This means it doesn’t harm or scramble cellular DNA, nor does it leave any radioactive residue in your food or the immediate environment that could harm you.
Microwaves use safe, non-ionizing radiation
Microwaves to not use X-rays or gamma-rays to generate heat. Instead, they use a type of radiation (RF radiation) that is powerful enough to move the molecules in a cell around, but not so much that their DNA is altered. Specifically, microwaves move the water molecules around, causing friction. This friction causes water molecules in cells to rub and bang up against each other so fast and so frequently, that it generates heat.
Depending on the strength of the microwaves power setting, and the length of time you leave the food inside an operating microwave, food can be warmed gently, heated to boiling or will cook completely through. Just as you can overcook food, you can over-microwave it too – generating so much heat that the cells begin to break down, and the food can be ruined. Even so, this is not anything that would contribute to radiation sickness or poisoning.
So, the microwave itself isn’t harmful. What you put into the microwave, however, is a different story.
Mind the containers you use in the microwave
First and foremost, you should only use microwave-safe containers when heating or cooking food in a microwave. Anyone who’s ever cheated and put a gold-rimmed china plate in the microwave, or who thought they could save a dish by heating a can of soup inside the can, has learned the hard way after a shower of sparks emitted from the dish/can. This is because metallic ions reflect, rather than absorb, microwaves.
Similarly, many plastics or rubber-based containers that aren’t made for the microwave can warp or melt. This is because they’re made of materials that have a lower melting temperature than the food inside them. If pockets of food get ultra-hot, they can melt the container or plastic-wrapping on top if they aren’t designated as “microwave-safe” products.
Plastics can leach harmful chemicals into your foods and beverages
In fact, while the microwave is completely safe, the plastics you use to contain foods and beverages could be your worst enemy. According to Harvard, certain plastics used to house food and liquids or protect foods and liquids contain chemicals that are harmful – especially when they’re heated and migrate into your microwaved food.
“When food is wrapped in plastic or placed in a plastic container and microwaved, BPA and phthalates may leak into the food. Any migration is likely to be greater with fatty foods such as meats and cheeses than with other foods.”
BPAs and phthalates are known endocrine disruptors (they can alter natural hormone levels), and multiple studies have shown that their presence in humans increases the risk of several medical conditions, including cancer and infertility.
If you are worried about the quality, health and safety of microwaved food products, consider:
- Using glass or bonafide “microwave safe” dishware in the microwave
- Don’t allow plastic wrap to touch food in containers (even when it’ says microwave safe) to prevent the plastic from melting into the food.
- Avoid heating foods in take-out or disposable containers. Instead, transfer it into a microwave-safe alternative.
- Get rid of old, scratched or damaged “microwave safe” plastic containers as the damage may allow them to melt faster or leach chemicals into your food.
- Always vent containers (by lifting the lid a bit or setting it off center) to prevent the food from becoming hot enough to melt the container/plastic wrap.
Microwaves may be good for you
Rather than worrying about microwaves and radiation, we feel you should celebrate the good news. Current studies indicate that microwaving food may actually be better for you than other heating methods because quicker cooking means better overall preservation of vitamins and nutrients.
“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…That keeps in more vitamins and minerals than almost any other cooking method and shows microwave food can indeed be healthy.”
So, use your microwave with confidence and know that to date, there is no evidence that microwave radiation is dangerous for you as long as you use the appliance as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
Continue to visit the Lancs Industries Blog to learn more about radiation and your health, along with the radiation shielding products that will protect you when and if you’re exposed to harmful, ionizing radiation or radioactive materials.
Subscribe to our Newsletter
Get industry updates and new blogs straight to your inbox.