For decades, consumers have both embraced and feared microwaves. The convenience of hot food in a flash has long harbored safety concerns about microwave oven radiation levels, especially among households with young children. Fortunately, most research shows that these handy devices are safe, although fears of cancer from other types of radiation are well-founded. 

Cooking with Microwaves 101

Microwaves use electromagnetic waves to cook food. The waves aren’t actually hot; instead, the waves cause the water and fat content in food to rotate and vibrate, creating heat. This has several benefits, including:

  • Food heats up much faster than other cooking methods
  • Microwaves are more energy efficient than other cooking methods
  • Food is heated more evenly compared to other cooking methods

Microwaves are also used in cell phones, television, WiFi, and even traffic speed guns. 

Can Microwaves Cause Cancer?

You can’t get cancer from microwave popcorn or other “zapped” foods. Microwave radiation is non-ionizing and can’t affect cellular development or contribute to cell mutation.  To be clear, this is a type of radiation, but it’s relatively safe. Other forms of radiation, including those used for X-rays, are ionizing and require considerable safety precautions to reduce the risk of radiation exposure or poisoning. 

Microwave oven radiation levels are quite low. The FDA limits the amount of microwaves “leaking” from the device to 5 milliwatts for its function life, a level far below what might pose a risk to human health. Microwaves also dissipate rapidly over short distances; standing 20 inches away from a microwave yields levels 1/100th of the value measured at 2 inches from the oven microwave. 

Microwave Cooking Safety Tips

Burns are the biggest risk associated with microwaves, which is no surprise. Burns from hot containers and scorching hot foods or liquids cause most microwave injuries. Here are a few ways to keep you and your family safe:

  • Always follow the food manufacturer’s instructions for heating prepared meals – don’t overcook steamable vegetables, popcorn, or other microwave-ready meals. 
  • Always use an oven mitt or dishtowel to remove food or liquid from the microwave. 
  • Never let children use or remove food from the microwave alone.
  • Never use a microwave with noticeable gaps, leaks or malfunctions. 

Read more: Why Psyllium Husk Products Have a Cancer Warning

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