Your baby is screaming for her bottle so you pop a bottle of milk in the microwave and 50 seconds later the bottle is delivered, the screaming stops and both you and baby are happy. It’s the same scenario when you’re packing the kids off to school and you’re running late, so you pop something into the microwave.
Microwave ovens are so popular because they cook food in an amazingly short amount of time. They are also extremely efficient in their use of electricity because a microwave oven heats only the food — and nothing else. But, whilst they might be one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century, are they safe for your children?
In this article we look at the effect microwave radiation has on baby’s milk, the very serious risk of overheating foods and liquids and the possibility that your microwave might be leaking radiation.
Are Microwaves Unsafe For Baby’s Milk?
A number of warnings have been made public, but have been barely noticed. For example, Young Families, the Minnesota Extension Service of the University of Minnesota, published the following in 1989:
“Although microwaves heat food quickly, they are not recommended for heating a baby’s bottle. The bottle may seem cool to the touch, but the liquid inside may become extremely hot and could burn the baby’s mouth and throat. Also, the build-up of steam in a closed container, such as a baby bottle, could cause it to explode. Heating the bottle in a microwave can cause slight changes in the milk. In infant formulas, there may be a loss of some vitamins. In expressed breast milk, some protective properties may be destroyed. Warming a bottle by holding it under tap water, or by setting it in a bowl of warm water, then testing it on your wrist before feeding may take a few minutes longer, but it is much safer.”
Microwave Ovens And Burns
In many ways kids are less likely to receive burns from microwave ovens than a conventional oven. However the potential hazard of burns associated with microwave cooking is not often considered, and many people allow young children to operate these appliances unsupervised.
Burns have occurred from the steam emitted from microwaveable popcorn bags and similar closed packages and from boiling portions of foods which heat unevenly. An example of this is a jam-filled doughnut; the jam centre may exceed the boiling point of water while the doughnut itself is only warm. Frozen macaroni cheese is another example as the cheese reaches a high temperature more quickly and retains more heat than the macaroni.
Erupted Hot Water Phenomena in Microwave Ovens
There have been numerous reports of serious skin burns or scalding injuries around people’s hands and faces as a result of hot water or other liquids erupting out of a cup after it had been over-heated in a microwave oven. Over-heating of water in a cup can result in superheated water (past its boiling temperature) without appearing to boil.
This type of phenomena occurs if water is heated in a clean cup. If foreign materials such as instant coffee or sugar are added before heating, the risk is greatly reduced. If superheating has occurred, a slight disturbance or movement such as picking up the cup, or pouring in a spoon full of instant coffee, may result in a violent eruption with the boiling water exploding out of the cup.
To avoid this you should follow the precautions and recommendations found in the microwave oven instruction manual, specifically the heating time. You should not use excessive amounts of time when heating water or liquids in the microwave oven. Determine the best time setting to heat the water just to the desired temperature and use that time setting regularly.
Microwave Ovens Leaking
Microwave ovens are covered by radiation safety standards which typically limit the amount of microwaves that can leak from an oven throughout its lifetime. The limit is 5 milliwatts of microwave radiation per square centimetre at approximately 2 inches from the oven surface. This is far below the level known to harm people. Furthermore, as you move away from an oven, the level of any leaking microwave radiation that might be reaching you decreases dramatically. For example, someone standing 20 inches from an oven would receive approximately one one-hundredth of the amount of microwaves received at 2 inches.
To ensure that your oven is not leaking any radiation it is advisable to check to see that the door seal and inside surfaces of the door and oven cavity are clean after each use, taking special care to ensure that no damage has occurred to the part of the oven making contact with the door or door seals.
There are a number of microwave oven radiation monitors available on the market if you are worried that your oven might be leaking.
The Safe Use of Microwave Ovens
- Care should be exercised when heating baby’s bottle. The bottle might be cool to touch but the milk could be very hot. There have been reported case of babies receiving severe burns through drinking liquids which have come straight from the microwave oven. To avoid problems do not heat baby’s liquids in a microwave oven. If there are no alternative means, thoroughly shake the bottle to mix the contents and test its temperature against the skin after heating.
- Do not permit young children to operate the oven.
- Ensure that all food prepared in a microwave oven is stirred and/or left to stand for a few minutes before consuming.
- It is sometimes possible to super-heat some liquids or foods beyond their natural boiling point. Such super heated liquids may boil suddenly and violently when jolted or stirred after removal from the oven – it is therefore a good idea to take precautions such as covering the food or liquid or allowing it cool before removal from the oven.
- Do not operate oven when empty.
- Exercise extreme caution if you have a pacemaker implant. Microwave radiation may cause pacemaker interference. Persons with pacemaker implants should not be near a microwave oven unless they are sure that it is in good operating condition and there is no leakage of microwave radiation.
- Do not put your face close to the door or window when the oven is operating.