Extension and Ag Research News


| Share

Prairie Fare: Microwave ovens have come a long way

As with any food, follow safety precautions when cooking or reheating food in a microwave oven.

Raise your hand if you have a microwave oven in your home or place of work.  I am sure most hands are raised.

An estimated 90% of homes have microwave ovens.

Similar to other technology, the original appliances were quite large and expensive when consumer models were first released. Do you remember how large computers and TVs used to be?

Microwave ovens were invented by “accident” in the mid-1940s by Percy Spencer, who was helping with radar experiments for the U.S. Department of Defense.

Percy, a self-taught engineer who did not go past elementary school, noted that the chocolate candy bar in his shirt pocket began to melt. The team later conducted their experiments in a metal box to confine the microwaves.

According to legend, Percy began cooking random things, including popcorn kernels. The ever-creative Percy also blew up an egg in a tea kettle with the magnetron (main component of the microwave) above it.

Note: Don’t try cooking whole eggs in a microwave at home without a microwave egg cooker.

The 1960s brought microwave ovens to the consumer market, but most households could not afford this somewhat mysterious appliance. In 1967, the “Amana Radarange” was introduced at a still-steep price tag of about $500.

My Extension predecessors in food and nutrition taught microwave cooking courses to the public when the technology was new in the early 1970s. Companies thought that people would be using this time-saving oven to cook full meals.

If you have a microwave oven, how do you use it? I primarily use mine to reheat leftovers, defrost meat, and soften or melt ingredients for recipes.

As with any food, we have some safety precautions for microwaved-heated food.

Be sure to cook foods to a safe internal temperature and observe the standing times listed on packages to ensure the foods reach a safe internal temperature. Reheated foods should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Microwave ovens do not “brown” foods. Microwavable frozen stuffed chicken with a brown breading have been linked to food-borne illness because consumers did not follow the cooking instructions. The items may have looked “brown,” but they were undercooked.

Microwave ovens can result in some “cold spots” in foods, where the food may not be fully cooked or reheated. If you are reheating a casserole or soup, stop and stir the food midway. Use a carousel in your oven so the food is moving.

Use safe containers when microwaving. Do not reheat foods in styrofoam or many types of plastic take-out containers. The flexible margarine-type containers, for example, are not considered safe for reheating foods.

Any plastic containers used in a microwave oven should have the microwave-safe symbol (usually wavy lines) or microwave-safe wording.

Exercise extra caution when reheating baby food and formula. A recent University of Nebraska study showed that millions of plastic particles were released into the food from plastic baby food containers used to heat foods. We do not know the long-term effects of these tiny particles.

Your best plan: Use glass containers to heat foods in a microwave oven. Avoid containers with metallic trim. If you microwave a dinner plate and it gets hot during microwaving, find an alternative. The ceramic plate has absorbed the heat, and it wasn’t designed for use in a microwave oven.

Cover the container with plastic wrap, wax paper or microwave-safe paper towels, leaving a vent. Do not let the plastic wrap touch the food.

Here are some other tips to follow:

  • Know the wattage of your microwave (usually inside the door) and compare that to the wattage stated in the packaged food’s cooking directions. The lower the wattage, the slower the microwave cooks your food, so adjust cooking times accordingly.
  • Read and follow package cooking directions, including the standing time.
  • Finish the cooking process for microwave-thawed meats immediately.
  • Prevent burns by removing your food from the microwave carefully. Use potholders and uncover foods away from your face so steam can escape.
  • Clean the interior of your microwave oven regularly. Unplug it and use a mild soap solution.

No time to cook? If you have 10 minutes, how about a microwaved potato with canned chili and shredded cheddar cheese?

Microwave Baked Potato

1 medium-sized baking potato

Scrub the outside of the potato with a vegetable brush under cool running water to remove dirt. Puncture a few times with a fork to allow the steam to escape. Place the potato on a paper towel in a microwave-safe dish. Cook on high for six to seven minutes. Turn over and rotate the potato half way through cooking.

Without added toppings, this makes one serving with 160 calories, 0 grams (g) fat, 4 g protein, 36 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber and 20 milligrams sodium.

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

NDSU Agriculture Communication – Sept. 14, 2023

Source: Julie Garden-Robinson, 701-231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu

Editor: Elizabeth Cronin, 701-231-7881, elizabeth.cronin@ndsu.edu


Creative Commons License
Feel free to use and share this content, but please do so under the conditions of our Creative Commons license and our Rules for Use. Thanks.