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January 20, 2009

BehindTheMedspeak: Is it safe to store food near a microwave oven?


Long story short: Yes.

C. Claiborne Ray addressed the question in her January 6, 2009 New York Times Science section "Q&A" column , which follows.


Microwaves and Leaks

Is it healthy to store foods near a microwave oven? I worry that cooking oil, spices or canned foods may be receiving unhealthy doses of microwave emissions.

A. If the foods you are storing near your microwave oven are not somehow visibly changed, as if cooked, then they are not being affected by your microwave, which is shielded against leaks of microwave energy while operating and is designed to shut off when the door opens.

“Microwaves cause water molecules in food to vibrate, producing heat that cooks the food,” according to a fact sheet from the United States Food and Drug Administration Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “The microwave energy is changed to heat as it is absorbed by food, and does not make food ‘radioactive’ or ‘contaminated.’ ”

A microwave with a leaky seal or door may conceivably cook adjacent foods, but that would be rare.

“There is little cause for concern about excess microwaves leaking from ovens unless the door hinges, latch or seals are damaged,” the fact sheet says. “In F.D.A.’s experience, most ovens tested show little or no detectable microwave leakage.”

A federal standard limits the amount of microwaves that can leak from an oven throughout its lifetime to five milliwatts of microwave radiation per square centimeter at approximately two inches from the oven’s surface, far below the level known to harm people.

Some early worries about microwaves, like possible damage to pacemakers, have largely been resolved, the agency says; modern pacemakers are shielded against electrical interference.


The graphic up top, which accompanied the Times column, is by Victoria Roberts.

January 20, 2009 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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I don't have to worry about food storage proximity. My concern is that if radiation leakage is limited then I'll never get any of the cool superpowers by standing way too close while stuff is heating. I hate spiders and we don't have a desert for nuclear testing around, and I don't even like green or jewelry all that much, so the "c'mon, c'mon, c'mon" chant while hovering by the nukebox was my best shot. All these years of exposure and all I've got is the ability to slow down a checkout lane by stepping in it and the ability to open up really good parking spaces by passing them by.


Posted by: tatiana | Jan 22, 2009 3:46:43 AM

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