5 Tips for Using Your Microwave Oven Safely

Did you know the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates microwave ovens? Microwave oven manufacturers must certify their products meet safety performance standards created and enforced by the FDA to protect the public health.

Microwave ovens are generally safe when used correctly. But people have experienced burns, and in rare cases, other injuries from microwave radiation, particularly in cases involving improper use or maintenance. Therefore, always use your oven properly and maintain it as recommended by the user manual.

How Microwaves Cook

First, know that microwaves—the actual waves produced by these ovens—are a type of electromagnetic radiation. These waves cause water molecules in food to vibrate. These vibrations, in turn, produce the heat that cooks food.

The waves are produced by a vacuum tube within the oven called a magnetron. They are reflected within the oven’s metal interior; can pass through glass, paper, plastic, and similar materials; and are absorbed by food.

Microwaves are a kind of non-ionizing radiation. They do not have the same risks as x-rays or other types of ionizing radiation. (Ionizing radiation is a more energetic type of radiation that can cause changes to human cells.)

Injury Risks and Background on Microwaves

Most injuries related to microwave ovens are the result of heat-related burns from hot containers, overheated foods, or exploding liquids.

Most injuries do not relate to radiation. That said, there have been very rare instances of radiation injury due to unusual circumstances or improper servicing.

In general, these radiation injuries are caused by exposure to large amounts of microwave radiation leaking through openings such as gaps in the microwave oven seals. However, FDA regulations require that microwave ovens are designed to prevent these high-level radiation leaks. In fact, manufacturers must certify that their microwave ovens comply with specific FDA safety standards. These standards require any radiation given off by ovens to be well below the level known to cause injury.

Although some people have been concerned that microwave ovens could cause interference with certain electronic cardiac pacemakers, today’s pacemakers are designed to shield against this interference. You can consult with your health care provider if you still have concerns.

Safety Tips

  1. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use. Directions in the user manual provide recommended operating procedures and safety precautions. For instance, you should not use some microwave ovens when they are empty. In addition, you should not heat water or liquids longer than the manufacturer’s instructions and recommendations.