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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)

                          2. The PBS program One-on-One had Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson as Maria Hinojosa's guest the other day. He has degrees in physics, astronomy, and astrophysics. In addition to hosting NOVA Science Now, he is the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Natural History in NYC. In the process of making a point about something else, Ms. Hinojosa said she doesn't use a microwave because of all the danger warnings. He informed her that her fears are completely groundless. I doubt, however, that relaying this interchange to someone I know who is afraid of microwave ovens will do anything to change my friend's made-up mind.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: greygarious

                              greygarious: " ... Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson ... nformed her that her fears are completely groundless."

                              I did not see or hear the program, but Dr. Tyson usually chooses his words morre carefully than that. As to effects on the food cooked (the OP's original question), he probably could have been nearly an absolutist, but as to microwaves in the kitchen generally, there are some grounded fears.

                              Overheated water has been mentioned in this thread, and real injuries can result from overheated water. Also, as a microwave gets used, food or other debris can get deposited or lodged on the seals around the door, making the seal less than complete. In that case, the leakage can affect, most immediately, any eyeballs in close proximity.

                              As a precaution in our kitchen, we never peer into a microwave from close distance while it is in operation, and generally, we stand back three or four feet from the microwave while it is running.

                              1. re: Politeness

                                Particularly when it comes to health and science, we've shown time and time again that we don't always know what we don't know. That said, I won't let that paralyze me and I use my microwave when time is short or it's otherwise a lot more convenient.

                            2. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/17/hea...

                              here's an interesting article i came across after a woman at the farmer's market lectured me on how microwaving kills all the nutrients in vegetables. doesn't address the carcinogenic concern but it's something to think about.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: trolley

                                people spew a lot of nonsense. when people make ridiculous claims i ask them to explain the hows and whys. they usually cannot.

                                1. re: thew

                                  i know thew. it drives me insane. she basically made fun of me out loud as if i was claiming the world was flat. all i said was butternut squash tastes ok microwaved b/c she was concerned about long cooking time. i went home feeling really stupid and did some research and came across this study. i'd like to run into her again...

                                  1. re: trolley

                                    trolley, if someone ever pulls something like that on you again, don't let them make you feel stupid or embarrassed...as thew said, simply *ask* them to provide sources that back up their statement - they usually clam up pretty quickly ;)

                                    and yes, as that NY Times article said, she was wrong. when done *properly* vegetables heated in the microwave often retain more nutrients than those prepared using other cooking methods.

                                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                      and goodhealthgourmet, thank you for your much needed advice. i will do that next time!

                              2. You need to make some new friends....

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                  don't know if your comment was for me but she was a complete stranger...already got rid of friends liker her a long time ago!

                                  1. re: trolley

                                    first line of the OP:

                                    "Lately, I have been getting tons of write-ups and e-mail from health conscious friends regarding health hazards/cancer causing of microwaved food."

                                    im pretty sure that's what Chem was referring to.

                                    1. re: trolley

                                      Hi Trolley,

                                      Yes, goodhealthgourmet is correct. My last entry was responding to the original poster, Charles Yu. Nevertheless, I think that friend of yours is funny as well.

                                    1. I was wondering this exact same question yesterday. Christmas vacation has allowed the time for me to pull out "Nourishing Traditions" by Sally Fallon. She is well respected by many in the health food world, but she also has her opponents. Much of her concern over the microwave is due to research that has not been done. As far as the small amount of research that has been done, she claims that it has shown that the microwave may have unfavorable effects on fats and proteins, making them more difficult to assimilate. In addition, she says that more recent studies carried out in Switzerland show that the microwave caused changes in vitamin content and availability. Finally, she says that eating micowaved food results in abnormal blood profiles, similar to those that occur in the early stages of cancer. I believe her source is "Valentine, Tom. 'Search for Health', Sept./Oct 1992, 1:1:2-13." I haven't had a chance to look it up myself.

                                      She recommends using a jet stream oven if you need an appliance that is safe but cooks fast. I was going to research those next.

                                      At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, I do not think the fact that the government has not banned microwaves or that microwave food sells like hotcakes proves anything. The government allows all sorts of harmful things for the sake of money, but that is another story.

                                      Personally, I try to avoid the microwave when I can, but I am a full time teacher and the mother of a three year old, so sometimes the microwave comes in handy. However, I did avoid the microwave for my son when he was an infant. My generation did not have microwaves when we were babies, and I do not want my son to be an experiment. Even now, I often give him cold food just to avoid the microwave. He doesn't know the difference yet. :)

                                      22 Replies
                                      1. re: janitplanet

                                        That research you referenced is nearing 20 yrs old. Just a few months ago, I heard an interview with Michael Pollan, who is skeptical of American agricultural practices and very concerned about nutritional values. If memory serves, he said that microwaving preserves nutrients better than other forms of cooking. It's also possible that this was in the Harold McGee interview which was also pretty recent. We are told that the most recent findings show that humans get more value from certain vegetables (e.g. carrots) if they are cooked rather than consumed raw.

                                        1. re: janitplanet

                                          If we are going to go after dangerous cooking practices, we might as well start with smoking, barbecue and deep-frying. I bet you that people get more sick from eating deep fried foods than microwaved foods.

                                          1. re: janitplanet

                                            If you want to avoid the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, you shouldn't quote Tom Valentine. He's a crackpot of the first order who got his start writing for the National Tattler, a rag that makes the Enquirer look like serious journalism.

                                            He wrote one article describing an engine that provides limitless power without using any fuel, another describing how kombucha prevents cancer and arthritis, and one that repeats long-debunked misinformation about canola oil. He also wrote a book about "psychic surgery," where the doctor opens the skin using only his mind, then removes "diseased" tissue with his bare hands and miraculously heals the incision.

                                            And yes, almost 20 years ago he published an article in "Search for Health," an alternative medicine magazine. In it, he claimed that microwaves are unsafe. His primary source? A report from the University of Minnesota noting that people were burning their children with baby formula that had been overheated in the (gasp!) microwave. It also noted in passing that microwave overheating destroys some nutrients. (What Valentine doesn't mention is that the exact same nutrients are also destroyed when formula is overheated on the stove.)

                                            It's not like microwave ovens are anything new - they've been in use in the US for more than 60 years. The first children who were "experimented" on by being fed microwaved food are now "experimenting" on their grandkids. Maybe even their great-grandkids. For comparison, the electric range has only been around for a little over a hundred years. Seriously, at what point does the statute of limitations run on crackpot theories?

                                            Yes, people like Sally Fallon can make a lot of money selling books that are full of unsupported allegations. And the more she can get people freaked out about how they're damaging themselves and their children, the more books she sells. But nobody in the scientific mainstream takes her or her foundation seriously. And there's a reason for that.

                                            Never mind what the government bans or doesn't ban. If there were a serious possibility that microwave ovens present health risks, don't you think that consumer protection groups - some of which are quite well-funded - would be conducting studies? There has been lots of legitimate peer-reviewed science done about microwave ovens, and the results are consistent - the "threat" that some people have imagined is just that - imaginary.

                                            1. re: alanbarnes

                                              The recurring theme her is that people will believe patently false representations by people they know nothing about just because it bucks the "mainstream." So you or I can create a website where we spout off about the evils of using wooden spoons or health hazards in eating food cooked on Wednesdays and there will be people who buy into it. Throw in a popular demon like "radiation" and all bets are off.

                                              1. re: ferret

                                                another part of it is the desire to be a "good parent" by being more proactive or careful or whatever than the run-of-the-mill person. Who can fault you if you're only taking care of your babies the best way you can?

                                                The irony is if you avoid microwaves and instead grill your baby's food the "old-fashioned" way, and end up with more carcinogenic compounds (not that I personally worry too much about grilling either).

                                              2. re: alanbarnes

                                                alanbarnes: "There has been lots of legitimate peer-reviewed science done about microwave ovens, and the results are consistent - the "threat" that some people have imagined is just that - imaginary."

                                                Well, yes, but the funding for many of those studies was from the consumer microwave industry. Probably the most intensive, extensive, and objective studies of the effects of microwaves on humans were conducted by several United States government agencies and several universities following the Soviet Union's microwave beaming of the sixth to tenth floors of the United States Embassy in Moscow, leading up to an international incident in 1976, 34 years ago. An interesting observation at the time of the incident was that the maximum microwave radiation intensity at the embassy was orders of magnitude lower than the allowable microwave leakage allowed at that time from new microwave ovens sold in the United States.

                                                A 1979 report (just three years after the peak of the incident) on some of the epidemiological studies may be found here:

                                                I expect that there have been follow-up reports, but I have not expended the time to look for them.

                                                1. re: Politeness

                                                  My point is if there were any epidemiological data at all that implicated microwave ovens as a health risk, there are plenty of public and private entities that would fund studies to quantify and address the risk. But the risk is pretty much non-existent.

                                                  You cite an article regarding the US embassy in Moscow, which was bombarded with microwave radiation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 30 years. And that article's finding is unambiguous: "an exhaustive comparison of the health status of the state department employees who had served in Moscow with those who had served in other Eastern European posts during the same period of time revealed no differences in health status as indicated by their mortality figures and a variety of morbidity measures. No convincing evidence was discovered that would directly link the exposure to microwave radiation experienced by the employees at the Moscow embassy in the causation of any adverse health effects as of the time of this analysis."

                                                  Yes, microwave radiation can hurt people. If you were to cut the glass of a microwave oven's door and stand against it while it cooked, you could probably do some serious damage. But the fact of the matter is that little or no radiation leaks from a modern microwave oven. If you're concerned about it, you can get a microwave leakage detector for under $10. And you can always just take a couple of steps back - at six feet away, radiation drops by a factor of approximately one million.

                                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                                    I think we are getting off topic. It is not about if microwave can directly hurt a person. The original topic is: can food that has been microwave be harmful for consumption?

                                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                      I recently had a near-lethal encounter with a microwave burrito. Does that count?

                                                      1. re: ferret

                                                        What did the burrito do to you? If enough of these incidents have happened, we can probably go for a class action lawsuit.

                                                  2. re: Politeness

                                                    Honestly, it become tiresome to hear the claim that a study was funded by a certain interest group, and therefore it is illegitimate. This is not a conflict of interest. A study being funded by a group does not mean that the scientists conducting the study are employees of that group. This is rarely the case. Scientists who act against the interests of truth for a better paycheck are going to be exposed very early on in their careers. If you could get away with that kind of conflict of interest, the immense scientific progress of the 20th century wouldn't have happened.

                                                    They're also such an extreme rarity - because really, who is smart enough to get through 7 years of doctoral studies but also stupid enough not to have figured out that there are dozens of 4 year bachelor degrees of 3-4 year professional degrees that pay a hell of a lot better - that you're not going to be able to find enough of them to sign off on a study for it to be viewed as legitimate. Even if you could, any falsified information is almost sure to turn up in peer review. The troublesome studies you hear about that are funded by oil interests or big agriculture aren't peer reviewed, tend to be single scientist studies, and are quite loudly and quite quickly denounced by the rest of the scientific community. It's hard enough to get a legitimate study published.

                                                    There's no reason not to trust a study published through the peer review process.

                                                    1. re: gadfly

                                                      I think both of you two have good points. It is true that most scientists are honest and won't alter their data regardless who funds their projects. Moreover, for most university professors, they get several fundings at a given time. For example, he may get NIH and NSF fundings while also getting some money from private sector. Usually, the private sector fundings are very small in comparison, at least from the professors I have seen.

                                                      That being said, it is very possible that a private company/sector can donate a certain amount of money and request for a certain type of experiment. For example, a microwave industry group can donate some money and say "We like to you to do an experiment regardining the microwave exposure on these three new modern microwave ovens" instead of "Can you do an experiment on microwave ovens with loose doors?"
                                                      The industry group is not going to fund a study which they believe the odds are against the interest of their industry. In other words, the study design can be altered by the donor, not the data.

                                                      In addition, there is selective funding. Like politics, donors will selectively fund the candiates. A person who work for a fast food company will donate his money to a political candiate who is friendly toward the fast food industry. Same for funding scientific project, a microwave industry representative is going to selectively fund the scientists who historically have produced positive results.

                                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                        True. But, if you could even generate enough interest in such a study to get it peer reviewed and published, the conclusions will have to be just as narrow as the experiment's parameters. If they try to use such an experiment to draw a broad conclusion,such as, "Microwaves are safe!" then it's not going to get past peer review.

                                                        1. re: gadfly

                                                          Yes, these studies are perfectly fine. The problem is not so much about what has been said, but what has not been said. Let me first say that I agree with you and I am trying to include counter-arguments.

                                                          A microwave industry group may fund a scientist(s) for conducting an experiment on microwave exposure for 10 new models microwave ovens, which is a perfectly good experiment and let's the exposure is extremely low and results are pubished. What that study really has shown is that brand new microwave ovens are safe.

                                                          However, one can then argue that most people do not use a brand new microwave. So what about a microwave with loose door? The microwave industry group is not going to fund a study on loose-door microwave ovens. Both because it is against its own interest and because the interest group won't consider that as a functional microwave oven. It will dismiss the legitimate of the study. Just like the fact that Ford won't consider a MPG test from a Ford Taurus with under-inflated tires. All the MPG (mile per gallon) test are done on cars at their optimal conditions. However, one can argue that most people do not properly inflate their car tires, and most people do not do this and that...

                                                  3. re: alanbarnes

                                                    I am not a Sally Fallon disciple. The book was given to me a few Christmas' ago by my sister-in-law, who grew up in a very health conscious family. I mentioned Sally Fallon because that is was raised the microwave question with me yesterday. The way I view Sally Fallon's book is more like food for thought. She recommends many things I am not sure about. For example, she recommends a diet high in animal products, and frankly, I have just never been a big meat fan - not because somebody said it was bad or good. I just never preferred the taste. As a kid, I would turn my nose up on steak night. Fallon's book has 471 reviews on Amazon many high stars but some very low stars, too. Yes, she is controversial. Like I said, her book is simply a good "food for thought" book that probably contains both good and bad advice.

                                                    As far as Tom Valentine goes, I had never heard of him before, and as I mentioned in my post, I did not have the time to research that article further, and I was just noting who Sally Fallon quoted.

                                                    It seems that based on past and current studies, we cannot know beyond a shadow of a doubt whether or not anything harmful comes from using the microwave. A solution might be minimal use of the microwave. Who cooks all of there meals in the microwave anyway? It seems best used for leftovers or last minute meals. Personally, I would avoid it with infants as well simply because they are just developing so many things. Doctors say not to microwave babies milk, but I think that is due to uneven heating. I would never grill a babies food either.

                                                    1. re: janitplanet

                                                      "It seems that based on past and current studies, we cannot know beyond a shadow of a doubt whether or not anything harmful comes from using the microwave."

                                                      Depends on your definition of "shadow of a doubt." It meets the standard for 99% of the population.

                                                      1. re: janitplanet

                                                        And we cannot beyond a shadow of a doubt know that boiling causes no danger either.

                                                        1. re: DGresh

                                                          Although if you write a book about the dangers of boiling and use your post as a reference I can guarantee that a "boil/no-boil" controversy will ensue.

                                                        2. re: janitplanet

                                                          I didn't mean to imply that you're a devotee of anybody. My comments were directed at the sources you mentioned not in any way at you.

                                                          There will never be a study that concludes beyond a shadow of a doubt that nothing harmful comes from using the microwave. Studies are designed to prove defined hypotheses; it's inherently very difficult to prove a negative. So the question isn't whether there's a study showing that no adverse effect can come from using a microwave, it's whether there's any study showing that there **is** an adverse effect.

                                                          And the answer to that question is an unequivocal "no." Lots of studies have been published by lots of scientists, and AFAIK not one of them has demonstrated that microwaved food is in any way inferior to food cooked using other methods.

                                                          The key is to look at studies that have been published in peer-reviewed journals. Lots of pseudoscientists make broad claims about experiments they've conducted or draw broad conclusions based on anecdotal evidence. And in the age of the internet, these people can get their "research" out to the general public at a remarkable rate. But just because something's written in a book or magazine or on a website doesn't make it true.

                                                          Of course, tracking down academic articles and reading them carefully can be very time-consuming, and it's not a particularly entertaining way to spend your day. If you don't have the time or inclination to do the research yourself, then the best thing to do is to rely on the consensus of serious scientists. IMO those who read sensationalistic half-truths and let junk science affect their decision making are doing themselves a disservice.

                                                          1. re: janitplanet

                                                            I have to agree with DGresh. Sure you can say "We cannot know beyond a shadow of a doubt whether or not anything harmful comes from using microwave", but one can say that just about anything as well.

                                                            Scientific studies are not conducted in the way you described. Scientific studies are designed to observe a difference between two circumstances. Let's say group A only consumes deep fried foods for a year, and group B (a control group) does not. If group A shows health averse effects, then we can say "we are 90% confident (whatever the confident level) that consuming deep fried foods for a year is unhealthy"

                                                            A scientific study cannot show a 100% confidence limit due to statistic limitation.

                                                            I can say "We cannot be 100% sure that the infrared radiation from standard ovens are safe for food preparation. Afterall, the infrared raditaion has more energy than microwave photons."


                                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                              I agree, but whether or not we can know anything 100% beyond the shadow of a doubt is more of a philosophical question than a scientific question. There are lots of things in science that we assert that we know without any study or experimentation of any kind having to take place.

                                                              This would be one of those cases. If a doctoral candidate I was advising had come to me to discuss conducting studies in order to prepare a doctoral dissertation on the safety of microwaved foods, I would have rejected this idea outright - and, frankly, I'd have seriously considered discussing with the rest of the department just how one of our students had gotten so far without developing a sounder understanding of reality.

                                                              This all reminds me of the public scare over the safety of the Large Hadron Collider. There were no scientific grounds on which to believe the Large Hadron Collider was capable of causing any sort of cataclysmic event. Being afraid of any such event occurring made as much sense, scientifically, as thinking that plugging in your Christmas tree lights can turn your dog into a parakeet, just like being afraid that a microwave can render normal foodstuffs into dangerous substances makes as much sense, scientifically, as believing that a homeless man shouting, "Curses!" at your bag of groceries will render the contents carcinogenic.

                                                        3. re: janitplanet

                                                          I am replying to the assertion that your generation did not have microwave ovens! I have 3 sons, the oldest of which is 37 years old. Believe me he grew up with a microwave oven. All of my cooking friends in the late 'seventies and early 'eighties had microwave ovens--and children.

                                                          Other posters have mentioned that eating grilled food with char is probably more dangerous than eating microwaved food. I like the micro because it does cook vegetables well, and without dissolving nutrients in a pot of water. There is a lot of mythology about food. I've written here about the abiding belief that aluminum in pans causes Alzheimer's. Some of this stuff has floated around for decades. Never been proved. Still people believe it.

                                                        4. If you modify your microwave so that you can cook in front of it with the door open, you will hurt yourself! I read that some short order cook did that and ended up with cancer.

                                                          However, you do raise a good point about plastic. You should make sure that any plastic used in a microwave is microwave safe because if it melts/burns it can emit some stuff that is probably nasty.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Shann

                                                            A while back I noticed that even many of the so-labeled "microwave safe" plastic containers (e.g., for freezer and refrigerator storage) are more flexible to the touch when first removed from the microwave than when they were put in. They do "firm up" quickly once out of the nuke box ;-) but there is IMHO definitely a change in structure going on, no matter how slight or transient. So I prefer to transfer whatever the food is, into a Pyrex or microwave-safe ceramic bowl for nuking. I lay some wax paper over the top rather than using a Saran (supposedly micro safe) type cling film, too.

                                                            But them I'm chemicals-averse in other ways too, so no surprise there, LOL

                                                            (no offence, Chem ;-) )

                                                          2. A few years ago, someone came out with a study that said cooking hamburgers on a grill was carcinogenic. Microwaves do nothing more than move molecules. They're a major convenience for defrosting frozen meats, and warming up home-cooked leftovers. I don't know how I ever lived without one. What I CAN do without is those horrible frozen "non-food" meals comprised of chemical preservatives and over-processed food items which are designed to be cooked in microwave ovens.

                                                            1. One thing I never understood about this thread is that no one separated the difference between standing in front of a microwave and what some escaping waves might do, as opposed to what happens to food heated in the microwave. I know someone who tested a few microwaves. He no longer stands near one when he is using it. On the other hand his wife will not eat anything that has come out of a microwave, believing that any food prepared in a microwave will cause cancer, that somehow the microwaves have made the food carcinogenic. Big difference.

                                                              8 Replies
                                                              1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                This falls into the "a little information is a dangerous thing." Most people know nothing about how microwave ovens work but they create word clouds in their heads out of "microwave">"radiation">"cancer" to the point where they are convinced that microwaves are bad irrespective of "why."

                                                                1. re: ferret

                                                                  exactly. i made a shirt years ago that read "solar energy IS nuclear energy"

                                                                  and then there is this gem:

                                                                  1. re: thew

                                                                    I love how a science fair was won on that.

                                                                2. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                  Standing near a microwave while it is running, even if it is leaking unusually high levels of microwaves, isn't something to be afraid of. If yours is leaking so badly as to cause harm to a person, you will notice the harm immediately. The harm it can cause is not cumulative, but is an immediately noticeable injury. You're in no greater risk standing by an operating microwave than you are standing by an operating stove or oven.

                                                                  1. re: gadfly

                                                                    All of you will read the truth about Microwaves someday.... Just like asbestos!! Use Fire to cook!

                                                                    1. re: bklynsausage

                                                                      fire is dangerous. people get burned. things catch on fire. homes are lost. food dries out. gas pipes leak.

                                                                      1. re: bklynsausage

                                                                        Asbestos came in to common industrial use at the end of the 19th century. By the turn of the 20th century, adverse health effects had been noted, and scientific studies published beginning no later than 1917 documented increased morbidity and mortality among those who worked with it. (You can actually go back further than that. Pliny the Elder was a Roman historian who lived from 23 AD to 79 AD. He recommended against buying slaves who had worked in asbestos quarries because they had shortened life expectancies.)

                                                                        Microwave ovens have been in use for 60 years and counting. So far, there is no anecdotal evidence of any health risk, let alone a scientific study showing any risk. But we don't have to wait until "someday" to read the "truth about Microwaves." Crackpots and conspiracy theorists have plastered that "truth" all over the internet. So read it to your heart's content. Just keep in mind that it's complete nonsense.

                                                                        1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                          Add to that the fact that no scientist in any era of history would have doubted the idea that breathing in particulate matter could lead to health problems.

                                                                  2. The misunderstand people have that seems to be leading to the rather silly idea that microwaved food is somehow unsafe comes from a total misunderstand of what the word radiation means. Everyone seems to be under the impression that anything you can describe as radiation must inherently be harmful. The simple truth is that there are many types of radiation, and very few of them are harmful even directly applied. Even those which are harmful through direct exposure mostly cannot change a substance in such a way that it becomes harmful, carcinogenic or otherwise.

                                                                    The type of radiation you should be concerned with is ionizing radiation, which includes nasty stuff like beta particles and gamma rays. Things like microwaves and visible light are largely harmless even through direct exposure - largely harmless because very bright light could harm your eyes and a microwave could cook you. There is not only no scientific evidence that something like a microwave or radio wave could alter a substance in such a way that it becomes harmful, but the very idea that it could is not scientifically reasonable. Non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation cannot make a substance radioactive. The only easy way to do that is to bombard the item in question with alpha and beta particles, and there are only a handful of people on the face of the Earth who can afford the equipment necessary to do so.

                                                                    All a microwave can do to your food is make it hot. If that food happens to be carcinogenic, or becomes carcinogenic once heated, then it doesn't matter if you use the microwave or the toaster oven. I can't think of many foods that contain compounds which super high heat can turn carcinogenic - which is why 99% of the "charring food makes it carcinogenic" claim is ridiculous - and the simple fact is that the most powerful home microwave doesn't even have 1% of the power necessary to achieve this kind of heat, nor does your food or the air in your home contain any substance that any level of microwave power can even get to that high a temperature.

                                                                    The most dangerous thing our microwave can do to your food is get it so hot that you burn your mouth.

                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                    1. re: gadfly

                                                                      That's a good logical explanation, gadfly, but I know from experience that people who are dead set on believing in conspiracies are hard to convince otherwise.

                                                                      I might add

                                                                      1. re: taos

                                                                        I apologize for reviving this thread to convey Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson's assertion that there's no inherent danger in microwave ovens (I'm sure he'd have added a caveat about leaking doors if microwaves were the primary subject of his comments but the statement was made during a conversation about other matters). None of his academic credentials are enough to qualify him in the minds of conspiracy buffs.

                                                                    2. so much of what we do is "bad" i suppose, but if we are aware maybe we won't do as many "bad" things to our bodies/environment; i think food reheated in a microwave just doesn't taste as good as food reheated with fire or even a convection oven. There must be something about the heating process that is different just based on how it makes your food taste (research aside). One day I realized my microwave was just taking up too much space in my kitchen and it's something i don't need or care for anyway; it's gone now and i do just fine cooking/reheating with fire and electricity

                                                                      13 Replies
                                                                      1. re: crowmuncher

                                                                        "There must be something about the heating process that is different just based on how it makes your food taste."

                                                                        No, there isn't. Having said that, there are obvious textural differences to reheating in a microwave versus other methods - and that's about it. You don't have to like or want a microwave, but it's simply another tool for the kitchen, no more or less "bad" than a toaster, stove or grill.

                                                                        1. re: ferret

                                                                          "You don't have to like or want a microwave, but it's simply another tool for the kitchen, no more or less "bad" than a toaster, stove or grill."

                                                                          Agreed. But there is a good side to micro cooking. It uses less energy, and in the case of veggie cooking, it cooks them nicely w/out dissolving the nutrients in cooking water. In terms of reheating food, I prefer the micro for some things and conventional heat for others. Also, the micro is excellent for some prep work. I feel this use of the appliance is often overlooked in this sort of discussion.

                                                                          If the micro isn't performing well enough for the cook to justify its presence, then of course it should be removed.to make room for more useful items, or to create more work room. But it IS useful to many home cooks and most of us--me included--would not say that is makes food taste different, although it might affect texture.

                                                                          1. re: sueatmo

                                                                            Yes, many people use it for prep work. I am just so used to being without a microwave now and I really don't miss it. I gave up my rice cooker and my coffee maker and I have to say-for those-I get a little nostalgic every once in a while. But my microwave? I should have donated it sooner than i did. I had it sitting there taking up space for nothing because I hate what it does to food (even just reheating). I stated that I thought it made the food "taste" differently. Perhaps "i do not like the way it (the microwaved food) feels in my mouth" is a better way to express it?

                                                                          2. re: ferret

                                                                            In my opinion, there is something very suspicious about anything that changes the texture of your food in the way a microwave does . Do I know what that is exactly? I'm not going to pretend I have the background to explain (backing my stance w/ scientific evidence) to anyone what it does to your food. Other Hounds will do a much better job of that. However my gut tells me, my taste buds tell me, that something just isn't good about it. Does that mean it's "bad"? In my tiny world, definitely.

                                                                            1. re: crowmuncher

                                                                              Cooking, by definition, changes the texture of food. A microwave doesn't change the texture, the way you use the microwave does. It's easy to overcook in a microwave and if you don't understand power levels or timing then you're likely to overcook. It's not a defect in the microwave, it just requires more effort from the user to know their equipment.

                                                                              You can overcook on a stove or a pile of burning sticks and achieve the same texture as overcooking in a microwave does. That makes me very suspicious about burning sticks....

                                                                              1. re: ferret

                                                                                Good one, ferret! I really like the way I can control the texture vegetables cooked in the microwave, and think they taste fresher than when boiled. I also like steaming vegetables but overcooking happens more often, for me, with steaming than with nuking. When my elderly mother, who'd never used a microwave, came to live with me, she was astonished at the flavor of plain potatoes - peeled, quartered, and nuked with a little water in a covered pyrex dish - proclaiming that she had never before in her 85 years experienced what a potato really tastes like.

                                                                                1. re: ferret

                                                                                  "there is something very suspicious about anything that changes the texture of your food IN THE WAY A MICROWAVE DOES" (i wrote to ferret)

                                                                                  "I stated that I thought it made the food "taste" differently. Perhaps "i do not like the way it (the microwaved food) feels in my mouth" is a better way to express it?" (i wrote to grey)

                                                                                  Again, I do not pretend to be a scientist. If I had any science background, I would do a better job of explaining what microwave use does to food that is just nasty- especially "cooking" with it. I grew up with a microwave and had one throughout most of my adult life so I do realize that you can overcook using a microwave (or any means for that matter), but that was not my point. It's kinda like Splenda. That tastes like sh*t to me. Do I know why or what's in it? no-again I have zero science background. But I know instinctively that something's not right about so I choose to eat raw sugar instead. And I know there's something just "bad" about what a microwave does to my food even when I am operating it properly. I'm not trying to convince you to think like me, I'm just expressing why it is that way for me...

                                                                                  1. re: crowmuncher

                                                                                    It's one thing to say "I don't care for it" and quite another to say "I know there's something just 'bad'" about microwaves."

                                                                                    1. re: ferret

                                                                                      Agreed. I don't find that micro cooking makes food taste differently from regularly cooked food. The thing is, unless you've researched it thoroughly, how would you know something is "bad?"

                                                                                      1. re: sueatmo

                                                                                        If you read my posts su, you'll find that I'm saying it's "bad" because I think it messes up the food. Period. No, as I've already stated in this thread, I did not research it nor do I pretend to know why. I just know from my experience eating microwaved food that I “do not care for it” as ferret would prefer I say. Some people enjoy what the microwave does to their food and I am not knocking them (including you) for it. But if anyone comes at me selling “a microwave is good”, I’m not buying it.

                                                                                        1. re: crowmuncher

                                                                                          OK. We just disagree. I don't think it messes up the food. But to be a bit stubborn about this myself, isn't messing up the food, "bad?" I have read your posts. What I have come away with is that you think microwave cooking affects food in a deleterious way, meaning it makes it bad. You state you can taste this. We just disagree, that's all.

                                                                                          1. re: sueatmo

                                                                                            I agree to disagree. Yes, I do think it's "bad". That was my vote. There's another thread you may have seen on Chow "Pizza-Bad for You?" where I voted 'no'. In the end, we are all going to die and we might as well enjoy a quality of life that is good for us. If heating a slice of pizza in the microwave would improve my quality of life, I would be doing it no matter what anyone said :)

                                                                                      2. re: ferret

                                                                                        "I'm not trying to convince you to think like me..." -CM

                                                                                        "How about there's something just "bad" about microwaves for some people, but not Ferret." ? In my post I put the word "bad" in quotations for a reason. It's me saying it's bad, not YOU...