In today’s busy world, the microwave oven has become an essential tool to get dinner on the table in a matter of minutes. Whether reheating leftovers, defrosting frozen foods or cooking a microwavable meal, the microwave helps speed up the cooking process. However, you must take the time to follow these important food safety steps as you whip up a quick dinner.
8 Tips for Microwave Cooking
1. Choose the right cookware. Only use items that are specially manufactured for use in a microwave oven.
2. Use a food thermometer. Consult this chart of safe cooking temperatures, and use a food thermometer to make sure food has reached the recommended internal temperature to destroy harmful bacteria and other pathogens that could cause food poisoning. Unless the food thermometer is labeled safe for microwave cooking, do not leave it in the food during microwaving. Instead, use an instant-read food thermometer to test the temperature of the food after removing it from the microwave oven.
*Added Tip: Make sure you are using the correct thermometer since some are designed to better measure the temperature in thicker food products (such as a dial thermometer) and others are designed to better measure the temperature in shallow food products (such as a digital thermometer).
3. Rotate and stir food to eliminate cold spots. Microwave ovens can cook unevenly, leaving cold spots in food where harmful bacteria can survive. It is important to rotate and stir food halfway through the cooking process to account for this uneven cooking and eliminate cold spots. Test food with a food thermometer in several places because harmful bacteria can survive in cold spots.
4. Allow for standing time. The cooking instructions on packaging for many microwavable meals include standing time, which is actually a part of the cooking process. Some foods need this additional cooking time to ensure that the food is thoroughly cooked for safety and quality. Check the food’s temperature after the cooking time and standing time.
5. Don’t overcook. You don’t want to undercook your food, but it is also important not to overcook foods in the microwave. If cooked in a microwave for too long, foods with a high fat or sugar content might heat to the point where they could catch fire. Carbohydrate-rich foods, such as potatoes, might become dried to the point where the center is scorched, even if they appear normal from the outside. It is important to use a food thermometer, to ensure you cook to the optimal internal temperature.
6. Understand wattage. The higher the wattage of a microwave oven, the faster it will cook food. It’s important to know the wattage of your microwave in order to adjust cooking times, if necessary. Remember, microwave ovens that are 700 watts or lower will only heat — not cook — your food. A microwave oven must be 1,100 watts to cook raw foods.
7. Defrosting frozen food: The microwave is one of the three safe ways to thaw frozen foods. To defrost safely,remove food from packaging and place in a microwave safe container (see #1) before defrosting. And be sure to cook meat, poultry, egg casseroles and fish immediately after defrosting in the microwave oven. This is because food heats up during defrosting and can cause bacteria that may be present to start multiplying. Cover foods with a lid or a microwave-safe plastic wrap to hold in moisture and provide safe, even heating.
8. Reheating leftovers. Transfer leftovers to a clean storage container and refrigerate within two hours. Don’t save or reuse the microwaveable container that came with your food to heat other foods. Discard containers when you’re finished with them. Leftovers must reach an internal temperature of 165°F when reheating. Eat leftovers within 3-4 days.