• By Elizabeth Coots, Extension Agent

Cook safely in the microwave

Almost everyone has a microwave in their home. They are pretty much a necessity when it comes to reheating leftovers or making popcorn. However, in some homes or apartments, microwaves may be the only source available to cook foods. It is important to understand how to use your microwave in order to get the most benefit.

Microwaves cook food from the outside in and don’t always cook food evenly. Foods cooked in a microwave can have “cold spots,” which are breeding grounds for bacteria. Follow the tips below to safely cook foods in the microwave and prevent foodborne illness.

• Only use cookware that is made to use in the microwave. Glass and ceramic containers may be used in the microwave. Metal pans and aluminum foil cannot be used. Not all plastics are safe for microwave use either. Plastic containers like whipped topping bowls, cottage cheese containers, margarine tubs and take-out containers should not be used in the microwave. These types of containers will melt or warp and could leach harmful chemicals into the food. Plastic containers will be labeled appropriately if they are safe for use in the microwave. Some containers will be printed with “microwave safe” while others may have a microwave safe symbol consisting of three wavy lines inside a box.

• Arrange food evenly in the microwavable dish. Add a little liquid if necessary and loosely cover the dish with a lid or plastic wrap. This will create moist heat and help to ensure safe, even cooking.

• When using plastic wrap to cover food, make sure it is vented and does not touch the food.

• Stir food or turn the dish halfway through the cooking process to eliminate cold spots. This allows for the destruction of harmful bacteria and more even cooking.

• Large cuts of meat should be cooked on medium power for a longer period of time. This will allow heat to reach the center of the meat without overcooking the outside.

• When thawing food or partially cooking it for further cooking in a conventional oven or on the grill, always move immediately to the final heat source. Do not thaw or partially cook food and store it to be cooked later.

• Do not cook a whole, stuffed turkey in the microwave. The stuffing may not reach the temperature required to kill bacteria. Cook stuffing separately to ensure safety.

• After cooking or reheating food in the microwave, allow a standing time of one to two minutes before taking temperatures. This completes the cooking process after the oven has shut off.

• Always use a food thermometer to make sure the food has reached a safe internal temperature. Cooking times will be different in each microwave as they differ in wattage. Safe cooking temperatures are listed below:

• Steaks, chops and roasts (beef, pork, lamb, veal) - 145 degrees F

• Ground meat including beef, pork, lamb, veal - 160 degrees F

• Egg dishes and casseroles - 160 degrees F

• All poultry products -165 degrees F

• Leftovers - 165 degrees F

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