Foodborne illness and microwave use

By: Jun 05, 2013
Microwave cooking dangers

Improper use of your microwave can lead to the consumption of foodborne bacteria.

Microwaves are designed for convenience and quick-fix meals that the food handler often improperly uses. There is a risk of foodborne illness when a microwave is not used properly.

Most people use their microwave for a quick re-heat or defrost. Leftovers can be placed in the speed-heating oven and in your mouth within 30 seconds. However, Health Canada is reminding microwave users to use their ovens properly to avoid the consumption of foodborne bacteria.

Safe Handling for Defrosting

Bacteria can grow quickly when food is left out on the counter. When defrosting meats and other food products, it is important to cook or refrigerate the food once it comes out of the microwave. 

Never refreeze foods that were defrosted in a microwave to prevent bacteria from forming. Prepare the food, immediately, by cooking and serving it at the proper temperature. The temperature of the food should not remain between 4°C to 60°C or 40°F to 140°F for more than two hours at a time.

Safe Handling for Cooking

Foods should be defrosted completely before they are cooked. Frozen portions cooked with defrosted foods can cause uneven cooking and lead to cold spots. These cold spots can be dangerous because bacteria may be present.

Meats should be cut into small portions and removed from the bone for even cooking. Keep a digital thermometer handy to make sure that the internal temperature reaches a safe level. Foods containing beef should reach 71°C (160°F), those that contain eggs, meat and fish should reach 74°C (165°F) and foods that contain poultry such as chicken and turkey should reach 74°C (165°F). 

Another safe food-handling tip that is easily ignored – never cook poultry in the microwave. Defrosting is okay, but cooking is not safe. Poultry tends to cook unevenly in the microwave and bacteria often remain. Poultry should be cooked in the oven to ensure safe consumption. If the poultry is cut into bite-sized portions, it is safe to cook, but never prepare a whole chicken or turkey in the microwave because it will not cook evenly. 

Safe Handling for Reheating

One of the most popular uses of a microwave is reheating leftovers. In order to reheat safely, you must cook the food until it is steaming hot. If you are unsure of the temperature, use a digital thermometer to check. Reheated food should reach a temperature of 74°C (165°F). 

Avoid reheating food over and over again. Leftovers should only be heated back up one time, so manage your portions carefully. Safe handling of your food can prevent illness and protect those dining at your place. 

Remember to alwas wash your hands before and after food is handled. This is especially critical when handling raw meats, eggs and fish.