Is your microwave oven dangerous?

A Mexican friend of my daughter refused to eat rice that was heated in a microwave oven. “Microwave causes radiation, which is dangerous to life,” she said knowledgeably.

I tried to explain the fallacious ignorance behind her belief. Her mind was made up, she didn’t want an explanation. Perhaps this post could be of help to someone who has the same misgiving, but has an open mind.

You have a microwave oven, big small or medium?

Good.

Is their a metallic grille behind its glass door?

Yes? Good.

Does your oven have an electric plug with a third pin to forestall electric leakage?

Yes? That third pin is a must in any electric device that has a metallic body or exposed metal parts.

Switch on the device. Open the door. Does the device switch off except for the light?

Yes? that’s great. Your microwave oven is the safest cooking device invented so far.

Gas ovens have open flames. They can burn you if you get too close. The vessel you place on it with the stuff and water could overturn and scald you. Gas can leak and set fire to your clothes. Your child should never cook on a gas stove. You know it, of course.

Microwave oven won’t do any of these harms. It is virtually child-safe except if one is careless while taking out the vessel and lets if fall all over oneself.

Microwave is a narrow spectrum within the broad spectrum of electromagnetic waves that include Radio and television waves, heat, light, X-rays Gamma rays etc. The content of energy for a given wave strength (called amplitude) rises progressively as you go up this condensed list from radio to gamma rays.

Do not be frightened by the word Radiation. The light that streams into your room from the sun is radiation. That is given out by your table lamp is radiation. The flame on your gas stove radiates. The movie you watch on your television is visible to you through radiation. Like all good things, too much of radiation can hurt, even kill. It is like at moderate rates, sugar, salt and food, they are good for you. If you too much of sugar or salt, you might end up with diabetes or kidney problems. Very high -energy waves such as ultra-violet rays, X-rays and Gamma rays that knock off electrons from ordinary matter (a process called ionization) can, indeed, cause harm to you. Fortunately, our atmosphere filters out most of these dangerous waves at the upper layers before they reach you. (Actually, the air there gets ionized and spend up most of the energy before those waves get a chance to reach you to give you skin cancer.) There is far more danger from these radiations in your sitting in the sun for long periods on the beach than in cooking with a microwave for a thousand generations.

Wattage-to-wattage of electricity, Microwave radiates less energy than your electric heating rod and is far less dangerous. It also consumes far less electric power. If that be so, one might ask, why do we have to block off microwave energy with a metallic screen, and a door that shuts out the device when you open it?

That’s because your skin cannot detect the presence of microwave energy fast enough to move away unlike you could feel the heat from the gas oven, fire place or electric rod. You will only know (if the door switch fails to cut out) when your blood begins to get unbearably hot! Microwave frequencies vibrate water, fat and glucose molecules and generate heat, but have little effect on most other substances including your dry skin. At worst, you might get a tingling sensation.

So now you realize why they say exposure to microwave could make a man impotent. It can heat up and boil his twin marbles without the sack ever finding out! However, microwave oven with its metallic screen behind the door and a cut-out switch that works when you open the door, your man is safe from becoming impotent. It’s far more likely that he becomes one through frequent exposure to airport X-rays which produce high-energy radiation that could get through his skin is he stands inside the frame for too long.

Rest assured that:

  1. Microwave is not a nuclear device. It does not leave behind residual radiation.
  2. Microwave does not damage the nutrients in your food. It actually preserves them better than any other cooking medium.
  3. Microwave may heat a rolled Indian bread or a bowl of curry etc. unevenly depending on where there is more water to generate molecular vibration and heat.
  4. Microwave will kill bacteria better than water boiled in other forms of cooking media.
  5. Microwave heating is far more efficient than direct electric heating.

Also note that:

  1. If you do not time your cooking (for which facility is always present), or watch out through the glass door, food such as milk might spill.
  2. Fully closed food stuff such as an egg can explode within a microwave oven since most heating happens in the wettest (or fattest) part -which, in the case of an egg, is the yolk. This is not an explosion that would bring in disaster, but would call for a lot of cleaning of the interior of the oven.
  3. A good microwave-safe glass bowl can be handled with bare hands after cooking for a reasonable time like a few minutes.
  4. A metallic object inside the oven will not cause an explosion. However, it will slow or block heating; even damage the magnetron which is the heating device.
  5. Always time your cooking. If you do not have a guidebook supplied by the manufacturer (which might not be accurate), observe and find the best timing for each type of food yourself.
  6. Assuming that the earthing pin (the largest of the three) on your plug is intact, microwave oven is absolutely safe until you find that the metal screen behind the door or the cut-out is damaged. This almost never happens. However, if you ever find that the oven continues to work (I don’t mean the light inside), then it is time to call a mechanic.
  7. Never open the back of your microwave oven yourself. It has devices – such as a capacitor – that raises the voltage inside several times your line voltage. An electric capacitor is like an overhead water tank. The tank holds water even when the pump is idle; the capacitor holds charge even after the power is switched off. Experienced mechanics know how to drain that charge by shorting its two ends before putting their hands in.

Rest assured that I am not paid by any microwave manufacturer for writing this eulogy of my favourite cooking device.

Note : This post first appeared in Quora.com on

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