MicrowaveFrom leftover lunches, lean cuisines, and ready-made meals nuking food is the norm for meal times these days.  While a common place practice, radiating your morning Toaster Strudle is still a fairly new concept. The first microwave, invented in 1947, by Percy Spencer was somewhat accidental, while studying magnetrons the inventor noticed a nearby snack was melting (online rumors toil between chocolate and ice cream) the phenomenon piqued his interest and thus Radarange was created.  Radarange stood around six feet tall and weighed a hefty 750 pounds.  Through food evolution and industrial innovation began the inevitable introduction of the much more sophisticated commercial microwave and our present prepackaged meal utopia.

With the increase in eco trending and our ever growing health blights, concerns are being raised and studies are revealing some interesting and alarming information about the impact microwaving has on our food.  Let’s not forget the freezing process most food encounters is already highly processed, nutrient void, preserved with things like partially hydrogenated oils, and added chemicals to make up for the lack luster taste a home cooked meal offers; factor in the pre-wrapped bow on your dinner entrée and you might be getting more than just a quick meal as a present. While I was perusing livestrong.com I came across an interesting article citing the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide:   

“When food is wrapped in plastic or placed in a plastic container and microwaved, substances used in manufacturing the plastic (plasticizers) may leak into the food. In particular, fatty foods such as meats and cheeses cause a chemical called diethylhexyl adipate to leach out of the plastic.”

This might be a rare instance where reusing plastics designed to hold things like margarine, sour cream, cottage cheese etc… are best recycled and not reused. Plastics marked with either 3 or 7 recycles codes can actually contain Bisphenol A aka BPA.  BPA has been linked to growing rates of asthma, cancer and other medical woes, the chemical compound promotes estrogenic activity which has some serious health potential risks and effects, the government is now recognizing these concerns and studies and are looking at ways to remove BPA and offer safer alternatives for our food containers. At the very least you can hope to avoid some leaching by sticking to microwave safe containers, although the research is pretty grey surrounding these types of plastics as well, it might be simpler to stick with glass or other ceramic alternatives  and avoid the controversy all around.Sad food

Regardless of container contaminant concerns or the nutrient dense food supplied in the tubs, one might concern themselves with the idea that a microwave oven is nothing more than a radiation oven. Radiation is a result of nuclear decay, the nuking hot box decays the molecular structure of the grub by way of radiation… mmm irradiated chow- this is one bandwagon I’m not joining and I don’t think I’ll wait another 20 years to find out we shouldn’t have been doing this all along (ahem lead based paint, cigarettes, and artificial sweeteners).       

Sources:

Wells, S. D. “Microwave containers leaching toxins into food at alarming rates.” Natural News. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2013. <http://www.naturalnews.com/ 034101_microwaveable_containers_plastics.html>.

Ronberg, Gary. “Hazards of Microwaving Plastic Food Containers.” Livestrong. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2013. <http://www.livestrong.com/article/ 149262-hazards-of-microwaving-plastic-food-containers/>.

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7 Responses

  1. Keri Mansmann Couchoud

    Thanks for making the bad news more digestible with your clever wit. I will think twice now when nuking but knowing me, I probably will still nuke just less often and now that I know, in glass.

    Reply
  2. Vicky Schneider Hoganson

    Thought I was being so green re-using containers, throwing them all in the trash and going glass!

    Reply
    • Steve Spielbauer

      We have a whole cupboard full of Glasslock and pyrex for storage. Still trying to get the final word on nuke or not nuke.

      Reply
    • Vicky Schneider Hoganson

      I'm still waiting for the final word on truffles….looks like we all need to be more patient :)

      Reply
  3. Mark Itzkoff

    Wow! So much WRONG information. First of all, microwave ovens do not cause nuclear decay. They use electro-magnetic radiation, which is light but at a specific frequency. This irradiation causes the oxygen-hydrogen bonds in water to excite (vibrate) and heat the water. The heated water in the food heats the rest of the food. As to BPA, it is NOT used in household food containers which are basically polyethylene or polypropylene, (2's, 4's and 5's). It is only used in polycarbonate and certain can linings. Polycarbonate is a very strong material that is used to make durable goods like shatter resistant eyeglasses. It is too expensive to be used to produce consumer food containers. I have checkeded with several industry sources who confirm that BPA is not used in polyvinyl chloride (PVS or "3").

    Reply
  4. Lindsy

    Thanks for the feedback everyone! My opinion still stands, you can find research on either side of the argument to support what you want to believe, but below is very much what I have found to be true…

    Polycarbonate plastics are often used in containers that store food and beverages, such as water bottles, and baby bottles and cups. I recall a freak out a few years ago all over the media about this very issue as it is very much so used in some plastics. Maybe the several the above reader checked with don’t, but I’m not willing to call and figure it out so I’ll stick with glass, personal preference. As far as radioactive decay there are several types, the decay occurs in microwaves when the polarity changes, it happens millions of times every second; food molecules – especially the molecules of water – have a positive and negative like a magnet…

    Reply
  5. Linda Barnes

    Thank you for the reminder! I forgot why I quit using the microwave for everything. And thanks for the code updates! While the FDA’s website says “There have been extremely rare instances of radiation injury due to unusual circumstances or improper servicing”, it can happen. You even got me researching on the subject! Ha! I was surprised to find out that microwave ovens use (non-ionizing radiation) what resembles radio waves to cook the food and some new ones now add halogen bulbs (light bulbs) to assist in the browning of food. A Doctor/ scientist was so very concerned with the decay of baby formula when cooked in a microwave that, she published her concerns (Dr. Lita Lee, 12/9/89 Lancet). She found that after being microwaved, baby formula converted certain acids into certain harmful synthetic isomers.
    While there is actually a sterilization process for food called irradiation that is widely used in many other countries, yet limited in the US, it is an ionizing form of radiation. Not the non-ionizing radio wave form used in microwave ovens. Good article. And I do use glass containers in the nuke “almost” exclusively. : )

    Reply

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