Are Microwave Ovens Safe To Use?
These Amazing Time Savers
The humble microwave oven. These days this type of appliance is found in most homes in western countries and they have proven to be, not only an amazing time saver but also a very low energy user compared to the conventional oven. However, due to my professional involvement with these items, I have often heard the question “are microwave ovens safe to use?”.
Personally, I don’t know much about using them for cooking purposes and due to the plethora of opposing opinions out there I’ll stay with what I know. As an electrician with twenty years experience in repairing these items I believe I can competently inform you of how they work, advise you of their rigid safety charteristics and highlight the potential dangers associated with them.
To tell you a quick story. The first microwave oven I repaired was in a takeaway shop and only required a new rubber door seal but being aware of the media hype about radiation I did the job with great trepidation, which resulted in my returning to the shop every other day to check that the unit was still operating correctly.
For weeks I had visions of people eating hamburgers from the shop and then collapsing in the street with vile looking sores breaking out all over their bodies as a consequence of a wrongly fitted door seal.
However, as time passed my worry and anxiety turned to joy as I realized my first microwave oven repair was a total success. Since then, these appliances have undergone technology changes which have eliminated the type of door seal mentioned.
The History Of These Products
Before I go into the practical aspects of these products I believe its important to have an understanding of how they were developed.
The first microwave oven was patented in 1945 by Percy Le Baron Spencer, (an American physics engineer) after he noticed that emissions from radar equipment he was working on turned a handful of maize into popcorn and also melted chocolate.
Eight years later the first microwave cookers were sold to the catering trade in the United States but it wasn’t until 1980 that they gained widespread domestic popularity in western countries.
Should I Be Concerned About Microwave Energy?
By now you might be wondering ” is microwave energy safe?” and if so how safe is it? Well let me reassure you, microwave energy is everywhere, it is travelling through your location and the room I’m in at this very moment. For example, telephone networks are linked together these days via microwave transmitting and receiving dishes.
But its important to realise that its the frequency of the microwave energy that determines how safe it is. The wave length of this energy generally varies from 1 millimetre to 1 metre (0.04 – 39.37 inches). For our purposes microwave energy for cooking falls into the field of 12 centimetres (4.724 inches). At this range microwaves do have a carcinogenic effect (can cause cancer) and are mutagenic (changes the DNA structure of humans). However, according to the World Health Organisation, “When used according to manfactures instructions, microwave ovens are safe and convenient for heating and cooking a variety of foods” and I certainly agree with that comment.
How They Work
The microwaves in these ovens are developed by a component called the “magnetron”. Describing how this item generates the energy for cooking is quite technical and not necessary for this article but once the microwaves are developed a set of rotating blades scatter them into the oven cavity creating a uniform heating effect.
The nature of this energy is that water molecules in food become excited by the radiation, generating heat throughout the food. Consequently food cooks much more quickly in microwave ovens than in conventional ovens.
Even though microwave ovens are very safe to use, like any appliance, accidents happen and components do wear out. Therefore the following precautions should always be observed.
- Never allow anyone (I’m thinking of children) to put their eyes up against the glass door when the oven is working. It is well known in the industry that there can be minor leakage while the unit is operating and although not harmful to health, could cause eye issues.
- Always ensure the metal gauze behind the glass of the door is in tact. This is designed to stop radiation from escaping through the glass. I have very rarely seen problems with this in domestic situations but have observed some very curious circumstances in commercial outlets.
- The door latch on these appliances is very sophisticated, consisting of a minimum of 3 safety switches. This means the door has to be completely and evenly closed before the unit will operate and if any one of these switches becomes faulty the unit will completely shut down.
- Realize that the technology behind the sealing of the door is very advanced technology and that these appliances go through some very rigid testing before being released to retail outlets.
- If your unit is in need of repair, my advice is to retain the services of a qualified serviceperson. Electricity is very unforgiving and working with it is not recommended for the DIY handyperson.
All Good Things Come To An End
I feel compelled to advise you that obsolescence is built into these appliances (i.e. they are guaranteed to breakdown after X amount of time, depending on the size of the unit) and unfortunately, with the smaller models the repair costs can be prohibitive.
Finally, if you are going to buy a new microwave oven and want long life, purchase one that is 900 watt or more.
Please realize too that the information I’ve given here is very basic in nature but in doing so I hope your relationship with your microwave oven will be greatly enhanced.