Posted February 21, 2011 at 1:41 AM
A few posts back I talked about microwaves and their impact on food preparation. I mainly touched on how they have changed everyday life since they were released. I had many comments on the safety aspect of microwaves, so after a little bit of looking around for some facts, I decided to dedicate another post directly to answering those comments.
My mother has always told me that cooking food in plastic containers in the microwave isn’t healthy or safe because the plastics can leach chemicals into the foods they are touching, so I decided to look into the science and research behind this. According to some organizations, some plastic containers are fine to use for cooking in the microwave. Those types of containers that are safe for use in the microwave will be labeled with a microwave-safe icon or have the words “microwave safe” printed on them.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that manufacturers test the products and only those that pass the FDA’s standards will be marked as microwave safe. Some things to avoid putting in the microwave include take-out containers, yogurt or cottage cheese type containers, plastic storage bags, and water bottles. Plastic wraps are fine as long as they don’t touch the food since they can melt if they do. Now what about Styrofoam? That too depends on whether or not it was manufactured for microwave use or not. It too should be labeled. If ever in doubt, avoid using plastic containers in the microwave altogether and instead use glass or ceramic.
So what about the food itself? Does cooking food in the microwave alter the nutrition of that food? The FDA claims that microwaving food does not reduce or change the nutritional value of that food any more than other conventional types of cooking. In fact, they think that microwaving could possibly have less effects on the nutrition of foods than other methods since foods are typically cooked in a shorter period of time than with other methods. Others argue that too much is still unknown about the effects of microwaves on food, and still others claim that the vitamins and minerals in foods are severely decreased. It is possible that we might never know the answer to these questions.
Now whether or not the microwaves change the nutritional values of food is not as important as what sort of nutritional values the food had in the first place. In this day and age most foods that come prepackaged for preparation in the microwave are highly processed before they even get near a microwave oven. One of the biggest concerns is the abundance of processed foods in most American’s diets, especially the frozen meals that are so readily available in supermarkets. They are quick and easy meals, and many of them are advertised as being a healthy choice, but some of them can be misleading. A major concern is the calories in a single meal, which can be too few for most adults. Other concerns include the sodium and trans fat content and the presence of sweeteners and preservatives.
And what about the possible radiation that is omitted from the microwave itself? Are there any health risks simply by standing next to or looking into a microwave? My mother also used to tell me that it wasn’t safe for me to be constantly looking in on my food while it was cooking. The FDA has done much research on the effects of prolonged exposure to microwaves and have determined that exposure to high levels of microwaves can be very harmful. Less is known about the effects of low levels of microwave exposure. The only reason that a person should be exposed to high levels of microwaves is if there is something wrong with the microwave unit itself such as if the hinges, latches or seals are damaged. The FDA states that in order to ensure the safety of anyone using a microwave unit, the manufacturer’s instruction manual with its operating procedures should be followed.
While microwaves are a convenient part of life that most of us take for granted, we should take a bit of time to consider the possible effects that the machine can have on our health both directly and indirectly. My father had a friend who used to say, “If it didn’t grow in nature the way you found it, you probably shouldn’t eat it.” I try to stick by this saying as best that I can, but I’m not perfect and even I take the easy way out and search the freezer for a frozen meal once in a while.