Microwaves!?

Right now as you read this blog post, there is a “potentially” deadly menace lurking in your kitchen.  It has most likely been there for days, weeks, possibly even years.  It sits on your counter (or above your stove) looking so innocent, but in reality it is a potential bringer of destruction and doom!

I am of course referring to the house hold microwave!

That is right dear reader,

The microwave…

I had dinner with a family member a while back and encountered a number of fascinating claims regarding the potentially “lethal” nature of the microwave.  So, being the skeptically natured person that i am, i decided to look into the claims being made.  With that in mind…

Claim:  The actual mechanism of action of the microwave is not known.  This makes the microwave potentially dangerous, because despite popular belief, what we do not know CAN hurt us. 

Reality:  Completely untrue.  The mechanism of action of the microwave was established decades ago when the technology was first made.  This is what enabled the creators of the microwave appliance to invent the technology.  Specifically, the creators understood microwave technology, which enable them to apply this technology to an appliance and invent the microwave!  If you are interested in learning exactly how a microwave/microwave appliance cooks food, check out the following article by Scientific American:   http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-the-microwave-works

Claim: Food prepared in a microwave is not safe to eat. 

Reality: Nope!  1st off, consider the fact that microwaves have literally been around for decades.  Every day, literally millions of people use the microwave to cook/prepare food.  With this information in mind, there should be a mountain of data the size of Everest demonstrating the harmful effects of the microwave.  But do you know what?  No such mountain of data exists.  Why you ask?  As i will annotate further in the discussion below, because microwaves are a completely safe technology!  For more information on this check out another article put out a while back by Scientific American:  http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=is-there-any-evidence-tha

Claim: Microwaves cause harm to the user by producing “changes” to the food being prepared.  The potential danger is the result of a non-defined mechanism of action/effect that alters food on a cellular/chemical level and thus decreased the nutritional content of the food and renders it dangerous to consume.

Reality: Sounds scary doesn’t it!  Unfortunately (or fortunately) this claim is completely untrue!  Let us have a look at the scientific literature shall we!

http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/90/3/412

This is the abstract for an article that discusses microwaving infant formula.  The study demonstrated that microwaving infant formula has no significant adverse effects to the formula.  More specifically, there was no significant loss of any nutrients from the formula

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3894486

This is an abstract for an article/review this discusses/reviews “recent” literature on microwaves + the effect of microwaves on the nutritional content of food.  This paper found that microwave cooking had no significant adverse effects on the nutritional content of food, and in some cases it was demonstrated the microwave cooking lead to better retention of some nutrients in comparison to other forms of cooking.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7047080

This is the abstract for an article that discusses the effect of microwave cooking on the nutritional content of food.  The authors of this article found that microwave cooking resulted in no significant difference in nutritional content of food in comparison to food prepared/cooked by other means.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11312771

This is the abstract for an article that discusses the effects of microwave cooking on legumes and chickpeas.  The authors of this article found that microwave cooking have not significant adverse effect of the nutritional content of the above food products. 

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9950081

This is the abstract for an article that discusses the effect of microwave cooking on food.  The authors of this article found that microwave cooking has the same effect on food as other methods of cooking.  Specifically that (microwave) cooking destroys harmful aspects of food (such as bacteria) while preserving required nutrients. 

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7589262

This is the abstract to an article of one of the only “negative” articles that I could find (to show you that i was not just looking for articles that proved that microwaves are safe).  This article reports several cases of salmonella outbreaks related to microwave cooking.  However, the outbreaks are not the results of microwave cooking, instead they are the result of the food being undercooked (the title of the study is actually rather misleading, as it is not the process of microwave cooking that is the culprit, it is the process of undercooking food). 

Claim: Microwaves cause harm to the user because they leak “dangerous” microwaves.       

Reality: Ah this old gem.  The short answer is no, the long answer is a little more complicated. 

I often hear this claim in relation to the “effect” that microwaves are reported to have on individuals with implanted medical devices (such as pacemakers or internal deliberators).  I have heard this claim numerous times, from a variety of different individuals (both healthcare professional and non-healthcare professional alike), but is it true?  Again, let us look at the scientific literature! 

http://heart.bmj.com/content/86/3/246.extract

The above is a link to an article that discusses electromagnetic/microwave interference in patients with implanted pacemakers.  Patients with pacemakers are typically instructed to avoid PROLONGED exposure to electromagnetic/microwave sources.  However this is a theoretical warning.  More specifically, there is no real evidence to support the claim that electromagnetic/microwaves can have adverse effects on individuals with implanted medical devices, but it is theoretically possible.  So in order to err on the side of caution, individuals with implanted medical devices are instructed to avoid prolonged exposure to electromagnetic/microwaves.  Furthermore, this paper specifically addresses the fact that microwaves pose NO RISK to patients with pacemakers (because of both the safety shielding around pacemakers as well as the inherent safety of microwaves). 

I have also encountered the claim that the microwave appliances leak “dangerous” microwaves that can cause cancer.  Yes, the microwave appliance creates microwaves.  That is how the appliance cooks food!  However, the microwave appliance was designed to prevent the escape of microwaves during the cooking process.  This is both a safety mechanism and a manner in which to maintain efficiency.  If the microwave appliance was regularly leaking microwaves over a prolonged period of time (i am talking years to decades) it could potentially become harmful.  Additionally, leaking microwaves would reduce the appliance’s ability to properly cook food, thus making in an inefficient meanings of cooking food (thus making in an inefficient means of cooking food, that no one would buy, so it would subsequently fall off the market).

To further support the above information, i did a literature review on Pub Med (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed).  I could not find a single credible/peer reviewed source to support the claim that the microwave appliances leak dangerous microwaves.  Additionally, in comparison to background doses of radiation/microwaves that you are exposed to on a daily basis from sources such as the sun, and potential exposure to microwaves from a microwaves appliance would be neglagable at best.  Sure, if you stuck your head in the microwave and cooked it on high for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for a decade, i am sure that you could give yourself cancer…but hey…i am going to assume that no one is going to try that (Skeptical Samurai disclaimer: DO NOT put your head in the microwave and cook in on high for an entire decade!)

So what should you take from all of this…

Microwaves are SAFE!!!

So in honour of this blog entry, go and prepare some food in your completely SAFE microwave

This has been the Skeptical Samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…

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3 Responses to “Microwaves!?”

  1. microwave pizzas are the best. good blog post dude.

  2. Arnold Schwarzenegger Says:

    I’m sure you meant “internal defibrillators”

  3. Stephane Norty Says:

    Thanks for the review. I actually had heard many of those and didn’t know what to think of it.

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