Is It Safe To Microwave Food?

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Published by: Chef Matty Riedel • Updated: October 25, 2023

It is perfectly safe to microwave food as long as you carry it out in an accurate manner while giving thought to some factors like radiation, nutritional value, high heat, bacteria, uniform heating, resting time, plastics and container material. On this basis, it is also safe to microwave liquids.

Is It Safe To Microwave Food?

Despite the concerns that microwaved food is not safe to consume, you might be happy to know that it is actually incredibly safe to microwave your food. Of course, there are some risk factors associated here, but as long as you undertake the process correctly, you should be okay.

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To understand some factors and elements involved when it comes to microwaving your food, you should take a look at the points highlighted below.


Since microwaves make use of radiation to heat up your food, it is believed that they can cause harm to your health due to the risk of cancer. However, this is not entirely true since the radiation used in microwaves has a much lower frequency and strength as compared to those radiofrequency waves that do cause cancer.

woman standing in front of her whirlpool stove top with a microwave on the wall above

The radiation in microwaves is also sealed inside the appliance due to the design of the door, thus minimising the health risks associated with leakage. In fact, even when leaks do occur, the radiation exposure is much lesser than the usual harmful standards.

Nutritional Value

When it comes to preserving the overall nutritional value of the food, there are differing opinions and research conclusions. In general, however, heating up your food in the microwave is unlikely to result in a major loss of nutrients.

In fact, in some cases, microwaving is the safest and best possible option here for preserving nutrients like vitamin C since other heating options lead to much more nutrient loss. This is because microwaves operate on the principle of quick heating and cooking, while other methods take much longer.

However, if you leave your food in for too long or heat it incorrectly, this might end up resulting in a major loss of nutrition.

High Heat/Temperature

The high heat or temperature of the microwaves will help cook or heat up the food, but this is one area in which microwaves can be unsafe for your health. In fact, one of the only major risks of microwaving food is that the high temperatures might cause burns or injuries on your hands while handling the containers and food.

For this reason, make it a point to always exercise caution while dealing with the microwave so that you can practice safety. Avoid using your bare hands to remove containers from the microwave.

You must also never operate a microwave if there is an empty container inside as the high heat will cause it to explode.


Heat is a great way to kill bacteria that may have gathered in your food. In this sense, microwaving your food or reheating it before eating ends up killing the bacteria so that you do not fall sick later on.

woman with a fork full of food from a plate in front of her

However, it is important for the heat to be high enough to ensure that the microwave heats up your food properly. Make sure the temperature of the food rises to at least 165℉ in the microwave.

Uniform Heating

One of the main issues with microwaving food is that it does not always carry out uniform heating. Due to the radiation-based heating technology, the heat might end up leaving the bottom half of your food cooler than the top, in which case it might be both unpleasant and relatively unsafe to consume the food.

This is because uneven heating and cooler temperatures might allow any bacteria in the food to thrive without killing them off, resulting in risks of illness. You should, therefore, ensure that the food gets heated evenly in the microwave by stirring the food at regular intervals.

Resting Time

Resting time is the brief time period for which you let the food in the microwave rest or stand as it is after heating or reheating it. During this period, the molecules vibrating in the food continue to do so after heating, which can allow the food to continue heating up even after turning the microwave off.

It is important for you to allow your food to undergo this resting time in the microwave before removing it to ensure uniformity in heating. This is particularly important for denser foods like meat since they often take much longer to heat up.

Plastics And Other Container Materials

Although plastic can absorb microwaves, it is vital that you avoid using plastic to heat up any food present inside it. For instance, if your container is made from plastic or materials associated with plastic, you should transfer the food into a microwave-safe container.

a plastic bowl full of cooked chicken pieces

This is because plastic contains many chemicals and compounds that can make their way into the food during the heating process in the microwave.

For example, Bisphenol A (BPA) present in common plastic containers has a high chance of diffusing itself into the food, thereby increasing the risk of cancer through prolonged exposure.

To help prevent this risk, it is important for you to use only those containers that specifically state that they are safe for microwave usage. Examples include:

  • Heatproof glass
  • Ceramic
  • Towels and napkins
  • Wax paper
  • Parchment paper

Any other material that has a label saying they are safe for microwaves also works.

Apart from plastic, make sure you avoid some other materials as well, such as:

  • Styrofoam
  • Thermocol
  • Metal
  • Aluminum foil
  • Paper bags

These are not only unsafe for the food but are also likely to result in overheating and explosion, thereby posing a risk to the microwave’s condition and the general safety of you and the people around you.

What About Reheating Water/Tea/Coffee?

Technically, it is possible to reheat water, tea and coffee in the microwave. The latter, in particular, are much safer to reheat in the microwave, although there is always a risk of losing out on some of the flavours.

steaming hot mugs of tea alongside a milk jug and a vase of red flowers in the background

This is because microwaves do not allow for uniform heating, especially when it comes to liquids. Since tea and coffee are reliant on brewing, you might be better off reheating them on the stove.

However, for regular consumption, if you need to use the microwave for this purpose, make sure you do not carry out the heating for too long.

When it comes to water, you should only reheat it in the microwave for a few seconds at a time. You should also only heat small quantities of water. Reheating water for too long and in large quantities might put your cup or mug at risk of explosion due to the vibrating water molecules.

Microwaving Tips

You should follow some universal microwaving tips to ensure that you carry out the process safely. Go through some of these tips below.

  • Always heat your food or drinks up in a microwave-safe container.
  • Remember to read the instructions provided on your microwave or manual (or even the food package) to ensure safety.
  • If you need to heat your food or drink for a long time, pause the microwave’s operation every few minutes and stir the food to ensure uniformity while also reducing the risk of overheating and injuries.
  • Always inspect the microwave to ensure that there are no leaks, gaps or breaks. Get your microwave serviced regularly by a professional.
  • Immediately stop operating your microwaving if you smell something bad or hear an unusual noise.
  • Always wear gloves or use a cloth/towel while removing containers after heating them in the microwave.


What Foods Should Not Be Microwaved?

You might be better off not microwaving some foods, such as hard-boiled eggs, seafood, frozen meat, chillies, green leafy vegetables and breast milk. Heat these up using your hob or stove for more uniformity.
You should also avoid microwaving takeaway food in the package or box it comes in. Instead, make sure you transfer the food to a microwave-safe container.

Is It Safe To Stand In Front Of Microwaves?

Ideally, you should always avoid standing in front of microwaves or even too close to them while they are heating up your food even if the microwave door is shut. Although the harm is unlikely to be significant, there are times when there might be leaks in your microwave that you might not be able to detect on see on your own.
These leaks can lead to major health risks, which is why it is advisable that you take precautions and stand away from the microwave.

Is It Safe To Microwave Food? The Bottom Line

It is quite safe to microwave food. You are unlikely to experience harm from the radiation or electromagnetic waves, nor is the nutritional value of your food going to decline to a large extent as a result of microwaving. In fact, the radiation will kill any harmful bacteria and make the food safe to consume.

Note that some safety risks still apply, such as heating plastic or touching hot plates, but these are avoidable with some care and caution.

Chef and Restaurant Owner Matty Riedel
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