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Prairie Fare: Are You Savvy About Microwave Oven Use?

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist
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As we reheat or cook foods in our microwave ovens, we should think about safety as well as convenience.

By Julie Garden Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“Whose lunch is in the microwave?”

“Whose cup of water was left in the microwave?”

“Who heated chili in the microwave and didn’t clean up the mess?”

Chances are, you have run into one of these scenarios at some point in your life. Abandoned meals and splattered food aside, microwaves are nearly as common in kitchens as refrigerators.

As we reheat or cook foods in our microwave ovens, we should think about safety as well as convenience.

In the past several years, foodborne illness outbreaks have been associated with microwave-cooked prebrowned chicken nuggets and stuffed chicken breasts. According to published reports, the chicken had been “par-cooked” by the manufacturer to appear brown, but the chicken was not fully cooked.

According to the package instructions, consumers were supposed to cook the item for a specified length of time in an oven or microwave oven. They were supposed to measure the internal temperature of the chicken with a food thermometer.

Turns out, none of the people who were sickened used a food thermometer and most did not follow the cooking directions.

An infection from salmonella bacteria can result in symptoms such as diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting, fever and/or dehydration. People who are elderly, very young, pregnant or immune-compromised can become severely ill if they eat food contaminated with salmonella.

Most of us use a microwave oven on a regular basis. Do you ever think about food safety when you are reheating your lunch?

Answer this series of questions. If you answer yes, you are doing what you need to do to have safe microwave-thawed or microwave-cooked food.

  • Do you know the wattage of your microwave oven? Some cooking directions are based on using a microwave oven with a particular wattage. If the wattage of your microwave oven is lower than what is specified in the cooking directions, you will need to cook the food longer. By the way, the wattage is listed in the oven door, on the back or in the owners manual.
  • Do you read the directions before you prepare a convenience food? If you don’t, be sure that you start doing so. Manufacturers have determined safe cooking times and power levels to assure that you will have a safe product. Sometimes microwave cooking is not recommended, so preheat your conventional oven and follow the directions.
  • Do you rotate and stir your food midway through cooking, then allow some standing time? Hot and cold spots are common when you cook foods in a microwave oven. Stir the food midway through cooking. After cooking, allow the food to stand a couple of minutes to ensure that the food has reached a safe internal temperature.
  • Do you use a food thermometer? Cook or reheat foods, such as meat, to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees. Measure the temperature in more than one spot.
  • Do you use microwave-safe materials in the microwave oven? Styrofoam containers and plastic containers that held whipped topping or margarine are not considered microwave-safe. Some of the plastic material could migrate into the food.
  • Do you cover food with microwave-safe materials? For safety, do not allow plastic wrap to touch the food. Vent a container or tent the microwave-safe plastic material over the food to hold in steam to thoroughly cook the food.
  • When you thaw meat in the microwave oven, do you immediately cook it? Some areas of the food may have begun to cook or may have reached a temperature that promotes bacterial growth or the production of toxins. Take the thawed food directly from the microwave oven to the grill, stove or oven.

Here is an interesting dessert recipe, with a unique way to promote portion control. You make one serving at a time in a cup in your microwave oven. At 105 calories per serving, your little cake is a treat without adding a lot of calories to your diet. There’s no need to add oil or eggs because the angel food cake provides the egg whites for volume.

Cake in a Cup

1 (18.25-ounce) box cake mix (such as chocolate, plain or spice cake)

1 (16-ounce) box angel food cake mix

Mix cake mixes thoroughly in a zip-type bag or other container. Store in a cool, dry place.

To make a cake in a cup, thoroughly mix 3 tablespoons of the cake mix and 2 tablespoons of water in an ungreased microwave-safe glass or ceramic mug. Place the cup in a microwave oven (uncovered) and microwave on high for one minute. Top with a dollop of whipped topping and berries if desired.

Depending on the brand of cake mix, the nutritional information will vary. On average, each cake in a cup has 105 calories, 1 gram (g) of fat, 22 g of carbohydrate, 0.3 g of fiber and 185 milligrams of sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication – March 15, 2012

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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