The Facts About Microwave Safety

by Dr. Stephen Sinatra
Filed Under: General Health, Q&As
Last Reviewed 03/22/2014

SOME EXPERTS SAY MICROWAVE OVENS ARE SAFE, AND OTHERS SAY THEY'RE NOT. WHAT'S THE REAL STORY ON MICROWAVE SAFETY?

I shun microwave ovens because of the electromagnetic radiation (EMR) they emit. Generally speaking, EMR includes all electrical and magnetic energy moving through space. Different types of EMR exist at different frequencies. For example, X-rays that are used in medicine are a very powerful, high-frequency form of EMR, whereas radio waves used for broadcasting are of a lower, less intense frequency. Microwave ovens, which work by using microwave-level EMR, fall into the less intense category. 

The FDA has regulated the manufacture of microwave ovens since 1971 and says they are safe to use. A federal standard limits the amount of microwave energy that can leak out of an oven. The FDA says the limit is far below the level known to be harmful and that your level of exposure to microwave energy drops dramatically as you move away from the oven. Yeah, right. On numerous occasions over the years, I've checked other people's microwaves for leaks by using an inexpensive, handheld radiation meter. I get the same result every time: The meter goes wild. No matter what the FDA says, it's impossible to watch the meter and believe in microwave safety. 

Here's another reason to avoid microwave ovens: If you microwave water—or your coffee or tea—you create "dead liquid." Informal experiments have shown that if you take two plants of the same age and species and, over a 7- to 10-day period, feed stove-boiled (and then cooled) water to one plant and microwaved (and then cooled) water to the other plant, the plant getting the microwaved water will die. To me, that's not a good recommendation for microwave safety. 

Other studies on microwave safety tend to be equally discouraging. They have found that microwaving food:

  • Breaks down vitamin B12 into inactive substances 

  • Releases potentially toxic compounds from food packaging

  • Results in a loss of antioxidant compounds in vegetables and nutritional value in protein

  • Creates a high number of radiolytic compounds during the cooking process (these compounds are unnatural substances we know little about)

The Bottom Line On Microwave Oven Safety

From all I've read, little is known about what possible effects may result from "officially" low levels of microwave exposure. No long-term studies have been done because of the difficulty in simulating the conditions under which consumers use microwave ovens. 

People have alleged radiation injury from microwave ovens over the years, but the only injuries acknowledged by the FDA also involved burns from hot food, splattering grease or steam.

I'd rather forego the convenience of a microwave oven for the satisfaction and taste of traditional cooking. Frankly, I value my food too much. Passing on the microwave is a no-brainer for me.

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