Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Microwave: Friend or Foe?

Yesterday I was chatting to two outspoken anti-microwave-ists down at the garden and realised that there are many people out there that share the view that microwaves are evil. 
Picture sourced from internet
Luckily for me, being a university student means that my uni library proxy server gives me access to the full text of most scientific journal articles. My last summer semester assignment (investigating an outbreak of hepatitis A among non-immune travellers – yum yum wash your hands, everyone!) taught me to learn to use and love the website that is, the home page of the National Centre for Biotechnology Information.  It’s basically a database that contains masses of biomedical and genomic information relating to science and health.

Surprisingly, there were only very few articles that discussed the impact of exposure to microwave ovens radiation on human health, apart from a couple of old journal articles from the 1970s. Even then, these used data gained from investigating ovens with faulty hinges, gaskets and safety locks – presumably (at least one can hope) problems that have long been addressed and rectified.

Photo sourced from internet
One issue that was relatively heavily documented by journals in this data base was not the average concerns of the destruction of nutrients in food or the carcinogenic effects of radiation exposure. Rather, it was something more mundane.

 “A female patient, 36-years-old, complained of bilateral palatal pain on the anatomical area of upper second molars. The painful condition of palatal mucosa erosion was observed. Palatal erosions or ulcerations may be caused by heated food cooked in microwave ovens. We present a case of a bilateral palatal burn caused by cheese-pie. Concluding, any food containing cheese, when heated in microwave oven, may cause palatal burn if eaten immediately” (Kafas & Stravrianos 2008).  

The bit that got me was this: “Any food containing cheese, when heated in microwave oven, may cause palatal burn if eaten immediately”… Ahh common sense??

It’s quite a cute little article though, if you’re inclined to have a read. Due to the cooking properties of microwave ovens, food containing soft/liquid material (e.g. cheese) has a higher internal temperature, relative to external. It appears that this a particular concern in cheese pies rather than, say pizzas, because the melty cheesey material is located in the centre of the food item. When we bite into such things, the hot melted cheese flows across the mucosa of our mouths, creating that ‘burning’ feeling I suppose. Fascinating, eh?

Photos above sourced from internet

Microwave-heated food may cause serious injury if it is not allowed to cool before consumption” (Offer, Nanan & Marshall 1995).

In the end, I love the microwave. It’s possible to make oatmeal, cakes, bake chicken, etc so until there’s some conclusive evidence, I’m going to continue to use one. That doesn’t mean I stand in front of it and gaze and sniff at the contents while it’s in operation… unlike somebody in our house:

- Matilda


Kafas, P & Stavrianos 2008, ‘Thermal burn of palate caused by microwave heated cheese-pie: A case report’, Cases Journal, vol. 1, no. 191, <>.

Merckel, C 1972, ‘Microwave and Man: The Direct and Indirect Hazards, and the Precautions’, California State Journal of Medicine, vol. 117, pp. 20-24, <>.

Offer, GJ, Nanan, D & Marshall, JN 1995, ‘Thermal injury to the upper aerodigestive tract after microwave heating of food’, Journal of Accident and Emergency Medicine, vol. 12, pp. 216-217, <>.

No comments:

Post a Comment