Thursday, November 22, 2007

Microwave Oven Safety

Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration released a "Consumer Update" about microwave ovens. This update covered a lot of territory - how microwave ovens work, the types of injuries that can result from their use, and how to operate a microwave oven safely. But they forgot to mention one detail. Microwave ovens are a very poor way to cook food safely.

Twenty years of research into cooking poultry in microwave ovens have led to one consistent conclusion. It is neither safe nor reliable. Any of us who have tried to cook a piece of meat or a chicken pot pie knows that food heats very unevenly in a microwave.

As long ago as 1989, researchers compared the performance of conventional ovens, microwave ovens, and convection microwave ovens side-by-side. They found that a whole chicken, when cooked to an internal temperature of 185ºF in a microwave oven, still contained live Salmonella. The chickens cooked to the same temperature (or lower) in conventional or convection-microwave ovens were Salmonella-free. Other researchers in other countries have confirmed this performance both with Salmonella and with other dangerous microbes such as Listeria monocytogenes.

We should be thankful that FDA took the time to remind all of us not to stand too close to the microwave oven while it's running, and to handle hot liquids with care, but it would have been even better had they told us not to use it to prepare our Thanksgiving turkey.

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