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Aug 16, 2009 03:49 PM

Microwave - Really THAT bad?!

Lately, I have been getting tons of write-ups and e-mail from health conscious friends regarding health hazards/cancer causing of microwaved food. Almost every article asked the reader to get rid of the appliances. Are all the claim justified? If indeed microwave oven alters the chemical composition of food and render them carcinogenic, why are hospitals and military worldwide still using them? Why do food companies still churning out microwavable frozen food? Conspiracy amongst the major players?
Would putting the food in glass container rather than plastic containers, before microwaving them, eliminate the concern?

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  1. You've pretty much answered your own question! Look at the sources of these articles. When you see the New England Journal of Medicine and the like among those sources then you can pay attention. Otherwise microwave away.

    1. Did men really land on the moon or was the moon landing shot in a film studio?

      Was Oswald the lone assasin?

      PIck your conspiracy theory.

      I suppose you got the same email I did making the rounds lately.

      Do the math. How many decades have microwaves been around? How much has the cancer rate increased? If it has been significant, how many other environmental problems could be attributed to that. There's a school of thought that cell phones cause cancer too.

      There's people who believe no matter what you cook your food in .... the microwave will getcha.

      However, I'd be careful using plasticware or plastic wraps and make sure they are microwave safe. Better yet, use glass to be extra sure.

      8 Replies
      1. re: rworange

        That is flawed logic IMHO. Correlating cancer rates with increased microwave usage will never prove causation.

        The problem is that no one has a credible physical mechanism for how microwaves could be directly harmful. It is testable fact that the microwave radiation emitted during cooking is prevented from escaping by the device's shielding.

        However, one may say that it isn't due to the machine directly but some effect it has on the food. Again, their is no plausible mechanism for why this would be so. Microwave's heat food using microwave radiation. Ovens and grills also deliver heat (at least partially) via electro-magnetic radiation, only in the form of thermal radiation. They are both forms of the SAME type of radiation just at different frequencies.

        1. re: Hmm

          >>"Correlating cancer rates with increased microwave usage will never prove causation."<<

          You are, of course, correct. A correlation does not prove causation; rather, it raises questions about causation that need to be answered. But Krys is right, too: a lack of correlation between microwave oven use and cancer rates indicates the devices probably do not cause cancer.

          Long and short - people like the attention they get when they run around warning their friends that the sky is falling. Best I can tell it hasn't happened yet.

          1. re: Hmm

            Another form of electromagnetic radiation? UV rays. Which I think we're all pretty convinced can cause cancer in high enough doses. The electromagnetic spectrum is wide, and just because two types of radiation are on it doesn't mean they have the same effect on whatever they hit. Photons are photons, but they ain't all the same energy.

            (I'm not in any way saying microwaves cause cancer, just that the fact that they are emag waves isn't enough of an argument as to why they can't.)

            Cancer rates should rise whenever life expectancies rise - as we manage to find treatments that stave off heart disease and other things that kill quickly and young, the likelihood of the population as a whole living long enough to develop cancers increases. On the bright side, now that our penchant for obesity seems to be shortening our life expectancy as a population, maybe cancer rates will start to drop and we can all breathe easily. A heart attack at 40 is one way to cure cancer.

            In other words, let me add an emphatic, "What he said!" to those who have invoked the "correlation does not prove causation" mantra.

            Regardless, I don't think we can blame our microwave ovens for our cancerous woes. If you get an e-mail citing a peer-reviewed study in a respectable publication, then maybe you should perk up your ears. Otherwise, relax and enjoy your steamed veggies, Charles. :)

            1. re: Wahooty

              So pleasant to hear the voice of reason.

              Has anyone happened across some form of chart of frequency v. carcinogenic effects?

              1. re: Wahooty


                You took my statement about electro-magnetic radiation out of context. I was talking about the argument that microwaves cause cancer via an indirect effect on the food. Obviously different energies of electro-magnetic radiation will have different impacts as a proximal cause (e.g. if microwaves leaked radiation) but I fail to see any proof of an impact as a distal cause.

                Everything I have ever seen says that microwaves do not chemically modify food in any different way then other types of radiation used in cooking methods considered "safe" and that was the point I was trying to make via my comment. (note: I am not saying the mechanism of heating is the same, only the underlying chemical changes that heating causes)

                Hope that clears things up.

                1. re: Hmm

                  You're right - in the throes of my Sunday night insomnia I did screw up the context en route from reading to responding - my apologies. We are, in fact, in perfect agreement. And, for the record, to continue your point, microwaves are lower in energy than infrared, so maybe we should start our own alarmist e-mail about the dangers of eating food cooked with dangerous, high energy IR radiation! ;)

                  Now I'm hungry for an irradiated hamburger, reheated in the microwave in a plastic container. It's the source of all of my mutant superpowers.

            2. re: rworange

              Until the day she died, my grandmother truly believed the whole "landing" was shot in a film studio!

              "If your microwave isn’t damaged in any way there isn’t any danger to your health."
              Part two

              By the way, do you or your friends use cell phones?

              1. re: enbell

                Yeah. Just to be clear, I don't place any credibility in either until responsible research is done to prove it true. Until then, I can only go by the fact that it doesn't seem like there has been any major rise in cancer rates.

            3. Health, schmealth. I say don't use the microwave for much of anything because nothing that comes out of it tastes good. These days my microwave is good for keeping my coffee pot on top of, and sterilizing baby bottles. We don't even keep it plugged in because it's used that infrequently.

              6 Replies
              1. re: irishnyc

                >>"I say don't use the microwave for much of anything because nothing that comes out of it tastes good. "<<

                A microwave is a tool. Learn to use it and you can get very tasty results. If the food you get from it is unsatisfactory it's because of your cooking skills, not the oven.

                1. re: alanbarnes

                  Yeah, don't tell Sam since he cooks fish regularly in it and makes yogurt also.

                  1. re: c oliver

                    I use my UPS to make yoghurt. Six one-litre mason jars fit perfectly on top of it.

                  2. re: alanbarnes

                    I'll stick to my old fashioned gas stove and oven skills, thankyouverymuch.

                    1. re: irishnyc

                      If I had to guess, people who use the microwave don't give up on their "old fashioned" ovens or oven skills, just like people who own food processors don't throw away their knives, mandolines and hand graters. As far as I know microwaves and conventional ovens can still be used in the same kitchen. I would have responded to your post by telegraph, but my computer seemed to be the more appropriate tool for this purpose.

                      1. re: ferret

                        exactly. i was going to make a similar comment, re the telegraph, actually, but being the pedantic ass i am, my list of stuff would have been a lot longer

                2. Too bad. I use it to reheat my geneticly modified chicken from KFC.

                  One microwave myth that is true though. Do not microwave a cup of water alone. It needs a wooden stick or something in it. The water will super heat and when agitated can have spontaneous boiling. That means and explosion of boiling hot water everywhere. A wooden stick will give the water a nucleation site and alieviate the problem.



                  7 Replies
                  1. re: Davwud

                    that is only true if the class is so smooth bubbles cannot form, and w/out looking it up, something to do/ with the shape of the vessel as well, but i don;t remember, and i'm too hungover to check.

                    1. re: thew

                      I think it was Alton Brown who demonstrated it on GE. He used a bottle where the mouth is narrower than the body. Like a baby bottle can be. Anyway, superheated water everywhere when a fork was dropped into it.


                    2. re: Davwud

                      EVERY morning we fill two coffee mugs with water and heat for two minutes in the MW so that our cups aren't cold when the coffee is poured into. No explosions so far. I've also boiled water in the MW with no explosion.

                        1. re: c oliver

                          It HAS happened to me. Very scary. The thing to be wary of is when you've boiled your water for the "typical" amount of time and there aren't any bubbles. that's when you should be very afraid.

                        2. re: Davwud

                          The water **can** superheat. Odds are it won't. But if it does, it can be really ugly.

                          When I boil water in the MW, I either break the surface tension (with a skewer, spoon, chopstick, etc.) or watch it through the glass until the surface tension is broken by rising bubbles.

                          An eruption of superheated water in a closed microwave is messy, but not particularly dangerous. And it gets off those stubborn food splatters!

                          1. re: alanbarnes

                            I think I better go for an eruption soon. I keep forgetting to clean up some tomato sauce in there. Still smiling this morning :)

                        3. Microwave ovens have been in use for 50 years and have been in widespread use for well over 30 years. Microwave-related myths have been around nearly as long. As with all other conspiracy-ish theories, it's incumbent on the ones making the claim to prove them accurate rather than forcing us to prove them false. With an abundance of worldwide data so far there have been no reliable studies demonstrating the evils of microwave use (and plenty of studies relating to the safety of microwaving food). Undoubtedly the prehistoric Internet was full of posts headed "Fire-Bad!". For every food-related product or practice there will be people claiming that it's evil.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: ferret

                            "Undoubtedly the prehistoric Internet was full of posts headed "Fire-Bad!"

                            I think some of the raw-foodists are still propogating this one.

                            1. re: nofunlatte

                              We do loose nutrients during cooking and food storage, for that matter. I don't care WHAT that family# says about eating everything including their chicken raw - I am not my cat and will never switch to a raw food diet. Love your "headline", Fire-Bad. Too funny.

                              #(Can't provide a link but I remember a story about a family that NEVER gets sick and they claim it is because they eat everything raw)