Keep microwave cooking safe

If proper procedures are not followed, consuming undercooked food could lead to illness.

Over 90 percent of Americans rely on one of the great inventions of the 20th century, the microwave. Microwave ovens can cook unevenly and leave “cold spots” where harmful bacteria can survive. This is why it is important to use a food thermometer and test food in several places to be sure it has reached the recommended safe temperature to destroy bacteria that could cause foodborne illnesses before consuming microwaved foods, especially reheated leftovers. Michigan State University Extension recommends the following microwave cooking tips that all microwave cooks should know. 

Some tips to remember:

Read and follow package cooking instructions. Microwaves make it easy to prepare food when you want something to eat quickly. But it is important to carefully read and follow package cooking instructions. Most prepared convenience foods are not ready to eat right out of the box. If directions are not followed, undercooked food could be consumed, leading to a foodborne illness because the food wasn’t cooked to a high enough temperature to kill bacteria that may have been on the food.

Know the power levels of a microwave. If the microwave you are using has a lower wattage than the directions on the food package. It will take longer to prepare. The higher the wattage of a microwave, the faster it will cook. Look on the door or serial plate of the unit to find the wattage.

Microwaves do not cook food from the inside out. The waves from a microwave oven penetrate the food to a depth of one to one and a half inches. The center of thicker food is cooked by conduction of heat. Because food is cooked by these microwaves, food usually won’t brown or become crispy.

Can food be cooked safely in a microwave? Bacteria will be destroyed during microwave cooking. However, the food can be cooked less evenly than by traditional cooking methods. It is important to use a food thermometer and test the cooked food in several places to check that the food has reached its recommended temperature to destroy bacteria. It is a good idea to cut food into uniform sized pieces to ensure even cooking. If possible, cover and add liquid. Also, debone meat when possible. Cover the dish with a lid or plastic wrap, this ensures even cooking and prevents the food drying out. Stir, rotate or turn foods midway through to avoid cold spots. Even if the microwave has a turntable, it is a good idea to move food around in the dish. Always follow cooking directions from the package or recipe. 

Practice “standing time”. Standing time is also known as resting time after the food has cooked in the microwave. This is considered part of the cooking process and needs to take place, in science terms, molecules are still moving around from the cooking process and need to settle down.

Always use a food thermometer to determine a safe internal temperature. After practicing the “standing time” as given in the recipe or directions, you can only tell if the food is safe to eat by its temperature.

The Partnership for Food Safety Education says, “Skipping simple but important cooking directions could allow harmful bacteria to survive and make you sick.” When cooking convenience foods remember to read and follow all cooking instructions, know when to use a microwave or conventional oven, know your microwave’s wattage before microwaving food and always use a food thermometer to ensure a safe internal temperature. For more information download the Cook it Safe brochure and watch the cook it safe dorm video.

MSU Extension recommends following good cooking practices and sharing this information with your friends and family to help keep everyone healthy. Every year, one in six Americans will fall ill due to some form of food poisoning. Many times it is the result of not cooking food to the correct temperature. If you or your family does not have a food thermometer make the investment and purchase one today. 

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