Microwaving food is one of life’s simple pleasures: chuck in some cold food and in two minutes you have yourself a hot, tasty meal. It’s magic, really.
In saying this, we
often mostly microwave food oh-so-badly — dangerously, even. We’re looking at you, people who don’t cover their food.
To school us all on microwaves and microwaving food safety, The Huffington Post Australia spoke to Rachelle Williams, Chair of the Food Safety Information Council.
“There are three different ways you can heat food: direct, indirect and microwave,” Williams told HuffPost Australia.
“For example, direct is on the stove top which gets the heat directly in the food. Indirect is in the oven in a baking tin or glass or ceramic container. This way heats up the air surrounding the food, which then heats up the food.”
This is where microwaves are a bit different.
“Microwaves don’t heat like an oven,” Williams explained. “They don’t actually heat up the air: the microwaves pass through the container and the food, and ‘excite’ the molecules in the food, which then generates heat. This is why microwaved foods tend to cool down a whole lot quicker than food that has been cooked on a hot plate or in an oven.”
“Don’t put metal in the microwave. It’s really not a hot idea as it tends to shield and spark,” Williams said.
“Metal containers are bad. Glass and ceramic are probably the best things to microwave food in. Plastic is fine if it’s suitable for the microwave.”
2. Do use glass, ceramic or microwave safe plastic containers
“Some people don’t like putting food into plastic containers as chemicals can leach into the food, and food can leach into the plastic, depending on the plastic it is,” Williams said.
“You’ll notice this when you have a bolognese which stains the plastic, whereas this won’t happen with glass and ceramic as they are neutral, so there’s no likelihood of them leaching chemicals into the food.”
This being said, many plastic containers are designed to be microwaved, so always check the container.
“Microwavable plastic can work well. Always check the bottom of the container to see if it’s actually microwavable and opt for a BPA-free container,” Williams said.
3. Don’t cook all foods for the same time
“It’s really hard to put times on foods because different foods are going to heat in different ways,” Williams told HuffPost Australia. “The more dense a food is, the more different it will heat compared to something that has more liquid in it.”
Microwaving a solid, more dense food such as a steak or potato is going to heat very differently to a soup or stew.
“A soup is going to heat up a lot quicker, but it will also lose its heat more quickly,” Williams said. “Something dense like a steak or potato will heat up slower, but will also hold their heat a little bit longer.”
4. Do stir food occasionally
A microwave needs a turning table so that the waves reach all sections of the food. Even so, when microwaving food, often not all parts will be heated thoroughly.
“Because of those bands and the fact that the product is being turned through those, you’re not going to get consistent heating with microwaves compared to the oven or hot plate,” Williams explained.
“You need to stir the food to spread the heat. Open it up and give it a stir to make sure it’s heated thoroughly throughout.”
5. Do heat it until bubbling and/or steaming
“You should always be heating up your food to at least 75 degrees Celsius,” Williams said.
“To do this, you need to make sure that you put it in a shallow dish, in the microwave on ‘high’ and give it 2-3 minutes (depending on what it is).
“Then you actually check it halfway to give it a good stir because you’ll find you’ve got hot spots. If it isn’t bubbling, put it back in.
“With anything that’s got liquid, you’re looking for a good bubble — that way you’re making sure it’s at least 75 degrees. And when you open the container, you want to see steam coming off it.”
6. Don’t microwave food uncovered
Don’t be that person at work who doesn’t cover their food when microwaving, resulting in a bolognese explosion (and then doesn’t clean it, GEEZ). Please cover the damn thing.
“Having it uncovered — particularly if there’s fat or liquid in there — means it can tend to explode,” Williams said.
“I would cover anything in the microwave, even if it’s just using paper towel. That stops it from splattering all over your microwave.”
7. Do clean it often
“You need to make sure your microwave is kept clean,” Williams said.
Have a look in the microwave — not just along the sides and the bottom but on the top surface. If there are bits of food there, it could drop back into your food the next time you microwave something.
“The best way to clean a microwave — in fact, all food contact surfaces — is simply good detergent, a clean cloth (don’t reuse a damp, dirty cloth!) and hot water,” Williams said.
“There’s no point in cleaning something with a cloth that’s dirty. I’d honestly say, instead of using cloths, use recyclable paper towels. Tea towels are okay, but only if you use them once.”
8. Don’t thaw meat
“Solids foods are going to partially cook in the microwave, so I would suggest with foods like meats, to not put them in the microwave,” Williams told HuffPost Australia.
“If you know you’re going to make steak tomorrow night, get it out in morning, put it in a covered container in the bottom of your fridge and it will be pretty close to ready to use.
“For thawing liquid-containing meals like stews and soups, microwave it, give it a stir at half way and thaw and cook it completely.”
9. Do check on your food frequently
As different foods heat differently, it’s important to check your meal while it’s cooking. That’s right, those poached eggs will not cook the same as your pumpkin soup.
“I often have curries with papadums, but papadums have no moisture. These dry types of foods will become very quickly ruined in the microwave, so you only give those short periods of heating time,” Williams said.
“Also, for eggs, they will explode so you do need to cover them.”
10. Do remember the golden rule(s)
“Microwaving is all about making sure you keep stirring, heating it consistently all the way through and heating to at least 75 degrees, and that the food is bubbling or steaming,” Williams said.
“And cover everything you put in the microwave and keep your microwave clean.”