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Do Microwaves Kill Bacteria?

Last Updated On April 22nd, 2016

The question of whether microwaves can kill bacteria has become a key question today. Many people have become aware of the presence of bacteria and the harmful effect it can have on the body. Outbreaks of food-borne illness due to the presence of bacteria are frequently reported in the news. Usually there is a food recall when this happens, suggesting that the problem begins with the quality of food that is being sold, not the way it is cooked.

Most of us use the microwave mindlessly. We reheat both foods and liquids on an average setting for a few minutes until food is hot enough to be tasty, without really even thinking about food safety. Microwaves are used in school cafeterias, workplaces and at home primarily because we want to be able to heat and eat our food fast. No thought is given to required cooking temperatures or what bacteria might be lurking in our fast food.

Common Food-Borne Illnesses

There are many different kinds of bacteria that can assault the human body. Some of them are transported by air, and are almost impossible to avoid.

Many food-borne pathogens and their harmful effects are avoidable, with the right cooking methods. Some common food-borne bacteria are:

  • Salmonella
  • Listeria
  • E. Coli
  • Botulism
  • Staphylococcus
  • Shigella

This list is by no means exhaustive, and it doesn’t take into account the inclusion of food-borne parasites such as Trichinella, which can be contracted when meats that are not fully cooked are eaten.

Recommendations For Cooking Food

It’s best to use regular cooking methods such as boiling or baking whenever possible, particularly when heating or cooking frozen foods. The problem is that freezing foods does not in itself kill bacteria. It merely holds pathogens in a frozen state.

A common misunderstanding about packaged frozen meals is that they are ready to eat right out of the package. Food must be heated to the right temperature in order to kill inborn bacteria, above 73 degrees celsius. The heating temperature must be sustained, because bacteria can grow when food cools down. It’s easier to reach this temperature and sustain it in stove top and oven cooking.

If you opt to use the microwave to heat, reheat, or cook commercial food, you should follow the package instructions carefully. Microwaving instructions always have a standing time for food after it is taken out of the microwave. Allow food to stand for the required number of minutes on the package. This is because food will continue to cook during standing time.

If you are using the microwave to reheat or cook home-made food, recipes should tell you the required microwave setting and standing time. Stir food halfway through its cooking time to make sure all areas of the food are properly cooked. Use a food thermometer after the food is done, to be certain it has reached the required 73 degrees celsius internal temperature.

Using The Microwave For Sterilization

The microwave can be used to help to sterilize non-food items such as kitchen sponges, dish cloths and plastic scrubbing pads. Studies suggest that the majority of bacteria that accumulate on these items can be removed by zapping them in the microwave for two minutes when they are wet, not dry. Sterilizing should be done about every other day for the best results.

Do not place any kitchen items in the microwave for sterilizing that contain steel or other metals.

The truth about the microwave is that while it is an amazing convenience, it may not be the best way to kill bacteria in food. This is probably more because we are careless about how we use the microwave than for any other reason.

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