Food safety to keep in mind when using the microwave

From thawing to cooking, make sure you’re using your microwave safely.

Using a microwave to reheat food has become very popular over the decades, but there are some important things to remember to keep you and your food safe.

Safe containers are important while using a microwave so that your food stays protected from harmful toxins. It is best to reheat food in microwave-safe containers such as glass, ceramic, and plastic containers labeled for microwave oven use. Cover and stir or rotate the microwave-safe container periodically for even heat distribution and allow the moist heat to help destroy harmful bacteria and ensure uniform cooking.

Reheating foods is allowed if the food was properly refrigerated and did not exceed more than 2 hours at room temperature before the food was stored. Be sure to heat the food entirely until it reaches 165°F by checking with a food thermometer. The food must always reach this temperature, even if food quality is diminished in the process. Avoid overcooked foods by adding some water to the dish before placing in the microwave.

Cooking raw meat in the microwave is safe but the food must reach proper temperatures. Raw beef, pork, and lamb should reach 145 degrees Fahrenheit, ground meats should reach 160 F and all poultry should reach 165 F. Use a lid or cooking bag and always rotate the food midway by stirring or rearranging for thorough cooking. Let the food stand for at least 10-15 minutes before consumption to distribute heat evenly and finalize the cooking process. Always use a temperature probe to check the temperature before service.

Thawing food in the microwave is permitted as it provides a quick method for frozen foods to thaw to avoid conditions and times that may maximize bacterial growth. If food is thawed in the microwave, it must be cooked immediately. The use of slow cookers and low temperature ovens for thawing frozen foods may result in favorable temperature for bacterial growth, so these methods should be avoided as well.

Microwave cooking can be safe if the proper precautions are taken. Regardless of what the purpose is, your food will not be safe if it was not handled properly to begin with. Here are a few reminders for safe food handling to prevent a hazardous condition later on:

  • Always purchase fresh, wholesome foods by looking at the “sell-by” and “use-by” dates
  • Take purchased foods home immediately to limit time spent in the temperature danger zone
  • Keep perishable foods no longer than 2 days before cooking or freezing
  • Raw eggs in shell may be kept up for 3-5 weeks but hard cooked eggs should not exceed 1 week
  • Never leave raw  or cooked foods outside of the refrigerators for more than 2 hours including preparation and service times
  • Keep a clean kitchen and always wash hands frequently during food preparations

With these tips, we can keep ourselves healthy and safe! For more information about food safety, contact your local Michigan State University Extension office.

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