Microwaves do not cook food like ovens do. In a regular oven, hot air makes the food and its container hot,. In a microwave, the air is cool. The waves it emits cause food molecules to vibrate. The friction it causes results in heat. This heat can be hot enough to kill the bacteria in foods. But there are some limits.
Microwaves mainly heat the molecules on the outside of the food. This can result in cold spots where bacteria can live. But there are steps you can take to prepare food safely.
Follow these tips when using a microwave to cook raw food or reheat a meal:
Here are some food safety tips you should follow when using a microwave:
Take special care when heating baby formula in a microwave. It may result in a scald to the baby's mouth or throat. A bottle might not feel warm to the touch after it has been microwaved, but there may be hot spots in the liquid. Do not heat or thaw breastmilk in the microwave. The excess heat can destroy proteins and other nutrients.
You will need to cook food in a container that will not melt. If the container melts, harmful chemicals can leak into the food.
Use cookware made of:
Plastic wraps are often used to cover food while cooking in a microwave. Wraps that are not microwave safe have chemicals that would be harmful if they leaked into the food. Steps should be taken to make sure that the plastic wrap does not touch the food at all. Never reuse plastic wrap. A paper towel or a lid for a microwave-safe container might be the safest choice.
Microwaves do not destroy nutrients. But heat can lower the nutrient level in foods. Water can also dissolve and wash away vitamins. This is true of any type of cooking.
Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Food Safety and Inspection Service—United States Department of Agriculture
Partnership for Food Safety Education
Cooking meat safely. Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service website. Available at: https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/cooking-meat-safely. Accessed November 3, 2021.
Cooking safely in the microwave oven. United States Department of Agriculture website. Available at: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/node/3355. Accessed November 3, 2021.
Dietary guidelines for Americans 2020-2025. US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services. Available at: https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf. Accessed November 3, 2021.
Microwave cooking and nutrition. Harvard Health Publishing—Harvard Medical School website. Available at: http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/microwave-cooking-and-nutrition. Accessed November 3, 2021.
Microwave ovens and food safety. United States Department of Agriculture website. Available at: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/cooking-microwave-ovens. Accessed November 3, 2021.
Proper storage and preparation of breast milk. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/recommendations/handling_breastmilk.htm. Accessed November 3, 2021.
Last reviewed November 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Last Updated: 11/3/2021