July 31, 2014

Cook Microwave Ready Meals Safely

After more than thirty people in twelve states contracted salmonella from microwaveable dinners, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a warning on February 12th about microwaving food.

“Foods cooked improperly in the microwave have the potential to make people sick,” said Graciela Padua, a research associate professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Padua added that one of the main reasons for the salmonella outbreak is because people simply don’t follow the directions on the food’s packaging. If consumers read the instructions more carefully, the risk of sickness would be minimized, she said.

When you heat up a microwave ready meal, be sure the food is heated thoroughly, all the way through the package. If possible, stir the food to distribute the heat and continue cooking until the entire meal is hot to the touch.

Microwave Safety – It’s Not Kid Stuff

Many people feel that because a microwave oven doesn’t use fire and because the container generally doesn’t get very hot, it is safe to let young children use one. Healthday Magazine reports that “Scalds are the leading cause of burn-related emergency room visits and hospitalizations for young children under 5,” said lead researcher Dr. Gina Lowell, with the department of pediatrics at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

Most of the scalds suffered by young children that require hospitalization are caused by hot foods or drinks, according to the findings, published in the October issue of Pediatrics.

Parents should tell their toddlers that when the bell on the microwave rings: “Mommy or daddy gets it first,” Lowell said. “It’s inappropriate for any child under 5 to be pulling anything out of the microwave.”

For the study, Lowell’s team looked at the medical records of children under 5 who were admitted to the University of Chicago burn center between January 2002 and December 2004. One hundred forty had scald burns, with 94 caused by hot foods or liquids.

Nine children between 18 months and 4 years old were scalded after opening a microwave oven and removing a hot substance. And 17 were burned when an older child, between the ages 7 and 14, was cooking, carrying a hot liquid, or supervising a younger child, according to the study.

To prevent these injuries, Lowell’s group thinks that microwaves should be redesigned to prevent young children from opening them. The child lock mechanisms currently on microwaves prevent children from operating the machines, but don’t prevent children from opening them after foods have been heated, she noted.

Education and awarness will help prevent what Dr. James G. Linakis, associate director of pediatric emergency medicine at Hasbro Children’s Hospital/Rhode Island Hospital sees:

“The majority of children we see in the emergency department with unintentional scalds are toddlers who have pulled down hot liquids from the stove or microwave onto themselves, and children who have been scalded by a hot liquid unintentionally spilled by an older child or adult,” he said. “These burns are extremely painful, and in some cases leave children with significant scarring. Efforts to prevent these causes of scald burns have the potential to make a significant impact on this type of injury.”

Basic Appliance Care and Safety

If you are lucky, you rarely need to pay much attention to the appliances that run, some of them 24 hours a day, in your home. But to keep everything trouble free, it’s good to follow some basic guidelines for care and safety when using or installing appliances in your home. Handymanclub.com offers some simples steps for use with your washer, dryer, refrigerator, ranges, cooktops, even your water heater.

Ventilation and combustion (dryers, water heaters, ranges and cooktops)
• Clean the clothes dryer’s lint filter before or after each load. Check behind the dryer for trapped lint. Clear lint from the exterior vent often. Lint buildup results in inefficiency and excessive wear and can even pose a fire hazard. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), an estimated 15,500 fires each year are associated with clothes dryers.
• Use only metal ducting for gas dryers because they run hotter than electric machines. Rigid rather than accordion-pleated ducting is best for airflow.
• Never vent clothes dryers or water heaters into the house to supplement heating.

Plumbing (washers, refrigerators and water heaters)
• To prevent leaky or bursting waterlines, check washing machine hoses for signs of wear. Consider replacing rubber hoses with newer braided stainless steel hoses.
• Check the screens at either end of the water hoses and remove sediment that may have collected there. This is especially important after road construction or water-main work has been done in your area.
• Periodically check that the washing machine is soundly footed and level so the hoses and the drain hose do not come loose.
• If a dishwasher’s tub doesn’t empty after operation, detach the drain line from the household drain and clean any debris from the line.

Gas (dryers, ranges and water heaters)
• Never use an oven as a room heater — combustion pollutants resulting from fuel-burning appliances can cause illness or death. Have gas appliances serviced periodically to ensure they burn with the proper mix of air and fuel.
• Be sure all vented appliances are checked for backdrafting. (This is one reason that it’s important for a city building official to inspect newly installed vented appliances.)

Electric
• Diehard DIYers may bristle at this warning from the CPSC — nonetheless, it’s a lifesaver. Never attempt to repair a microwave oven — because they use high-voltage power, they can pose a risk of electrical shock even after they are disconnected from the power source.
• Use dedicated circuits for large appliances such as washers and dryers.
• Keep appliance cords away from hot surfaces.

Guidelines for Safe Microwave Use

Microwaves are so common a household appliance and have been in homes for so many years, most of us can’t remember a time when we weren’t “zapping” our food. Still, using an appliance daily, we can get careless with how we use it. These guidelines can help you “zap” safely.

Cookware, containers and wraps

Only use cookware that is specially labeled for use in the microwave oven. Never use cookware that has metal in its composition.

Use microwave-safe plastic wraps, wax paper, cooking bags, parchment paper, glass, ceramic containers and white microwave-safe paper towels.

Silicone products can handle heat, and work well. But check product labeling before using silicone bakeware.

Don’t use plastic storage containers such as margarine tubs, take-out containers, and other one-time use containers because they may contain polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, which becomes soft and pliable, possibly allowing chemicals to transfer to food.

Never use thin plastic storage bags, brown paper or plastic grocery bags, newspapers, or aluminum foil.

Do not let plastic wrap touch foods while cooking.

Reheating

A microwave does not always cook evenly. Minimize any cool or hot spots by occasionally stirring during the heating process.

If you don’t have a rotating plate in your microwave, stirring is even more important as microwaves cook from the center, out.

Place a plain white paper towel (not brands made with recycled or colored paper printed with dyes), a white paper plate or microwave-safe lid over the food. That helps hold in moisture and contains any bubbling over or popping, splashing food – and extra cleaning time.

Cooking

Never deep-fry food. The temperature can get too high, creating a flash point.

The microwave is perfect for baking those last-minute potatoes. Use a fork to poke holes in the potato before cooking. Bake an average-size potato about 10 minutes or until soft to the touch, turning halfway through. Finish up in the oven for a crispy skin.

Defrosting

Remove food from packaging before defrosting. Do not use foam trays and plastic wraps because they are not heat-stable. Melting or warping may cause harmful chemicals to migrate into food.

Plan on immediately cooking foods that you defrost in the microwave. Do not pre-defrost food; some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during defrosting, and may speed bacteria development.

Use these tips along with your own common sense for safe microwave cooking. Also, when in doubt, check the user’s manual that comes with every microwave.

Microwave Popcorn Tips

Next time you pop one of those convenient bags of microwave popcorn, put the bag on a plate first.  The bottom of the bag can become so hot that it can crack the glass tray inside the oven.  Another good suggestion for popcorn and other foods is to place the food off center on the turntable.  This enhances the stirring effect of the turning movement and also makes it less likely that the same spot will be used repeatedly for cooking.

Cooking Safely in the Microwave

Microwave ovens can play an important role at mealtime, but special care must be taken when cooking or reheating meat, poultry, fish, and eggs to make sure they are prepared safely. Microwave ovens can cook unevenly and leave “cold spots,” where harmful bacteria can survive. For this reason, it is important to use the following safe microwaving tips to prevent foodborne illness.

Microwave Oven Cooking

    * Arrange food items evenly in a covered dish and add some liquid if needed. Cover the dish with a lid or plastic wrap; loosen or vent the lid or wrap to let steam escape. The moist heat that is created will help destroy harmful bacteria and ensure uniform cooking. Cooking bags also provide safe, even cooking.
    * Do not cook large cuts of meat on high power (100%). Large cuts of meat should be cooked on medium power (50%) for longer periods. This allows heat to reach the center without overcooking outer areas.
    * Stir or rotate food midway through the microwaving time to eliminate cold spots where harmful bacteria can survive, and for more even cooking.
    * When partially cooking food in the microwave oven to finish cooking on the grill or in a conventional oven, it is important to transfer the microwaved food to the other heat source immediately. Never partially cook food and store it for later use.
    * Use a food thermometer or the oven’s temperature probe to verify the food has reached a safe minimum internal temperature. Cooking times may vary because ovens vary in power and efficiency. Always allow standing time, which completes the cooking, before checking the internal temperature with a food thermometer.
    * Cook foods to the following safe minimum internal temperatures:
          o Beef, veal, and lamb steaks, roasts, and chops may be cooked to 145 °F.
          o All cuts of pork to 160 °F.
          o Ground beef, veal and lamb to 160 °F.
          o Egg dishes, casseroles to 160 °F.
          o Leftovers to 165 °F.
          o Stuffed poultry is not recommended. Cook stuffing separately to 165 °F.
          o All poultry should reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F.
    * Cooking whole, stuffed poultry in a microwave oven is not recommended. The stuffing might not reach the temperature needed to destroy harmful bacteria.

Microwave Defrosting

    * Remove food from packaging before defrosting. Do not use foam trays and because they are not heat stable at high temperatures. Melting or warping may cause harmful chemicals to migrate into food. ( There is some controversy about this.)
    * Cook meat, poultry, egg casseroles, and fish immediately after defrosting in the microwave oven because some areas of the food may begin to cook during the defrosting time. Do not hold partially cooked food to use later.
    * Cover foods with a lid or a microwave-safe plastic wrap to hold in moisture and provide safe, even heating.
    * Heat ready-to-eat foods such as hot dogs, luncheon meats, fully cooked ham, and leftovers until steaming hot.
    * After reheating foods in the microwave oven, allow standing time. Then, use a clean food thermometer to check that food has reached 165 °F.

Containers & Wraps

    * Only use cookware that is specially manufactured for use in the microwave oven. Glass, ceramic containers, and all plastics should be labeled for microwave oven use.
    * Plastic storage containers such as margarine tubs, take-out containers, whipped topping bowls, and other one-time use containers should not be used in microwave ovens. These containers can warp or melt, possibly causing harmful chemicals to migrate into the food.
    * Microwave plastic wraps, wax paper, cooking bags, parchment paper, and white microwave-safe paper towels should be safe to use. Do not let plastic wrap touch foods during microwaving.
    * Never use thin plastic storage bags, brown paper or plastic grocery bags, newspapers, or aluminum foil in the microwave oven.

Cooking Safely in the Microwave

Microwave ovens can play an important role at mealtime, but special care must be taken when cooking or reheating meat, poultry, fish, and eggs to make sure they are prepared safely. Microwave ovens can cook unevenly and leave “cold spots,” where harmful bacteria can survive. For this reason, it is important to use the following safe microwaving tips to prevent foodborne illness.

Microwave Oven Cooking

    * Arrange food items evenly in a covered dish and add some liquid if needed. Cover the dish with a lid or plastic wrap; loosen or vent the lid or wrap to let steam escape. The moist heat that is created will help destroy harmful bacteria and ensure uniform cooking. Cooking bags also provide safe, even cooking.
    * Do not cook large cuts of meat on high power (100%). Large cuts of meat should be cooked on medium power (50%) for longer periods. This allows heat to reach the center without overcooking outer areas.
    * Stir or rotate food midway through the microwaving time to eliminate cold spots where harmful bacteria can survive, and for more even cooking.
    * When partially cooking food in the microwave oven to finish cooking on the grill or in a conventional oven, it is important to transfer the microwaved food to the other heat source immediately. Never partially cook food and store it for later use.
    * Use a food thermometer or the oven’s temperature probe to verify the food has reached a safe minimum internal temperature. Cooking times may vary because ovens vary in power and efficiency. Always allow standing time, which completes the cooking, before checking the internal temperature with a food thermometer.
    * Cook foods to the following safe minimum internal temperatures:
          o Beef, veal, and lamb steaks, roasts, and chops may be cooked to 145 °F.
          o All cuts of pork to 160 °F.
          o Ground beef, veal and lamb to 160 °F.
          o Egg dishes, casseroles to 160 °F.
          o Leftovers to 165 °F.
          o Stuffed poultry is not recommended. Cook stuffing separately to 165 °F.
          o All poultry should reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F.
    * Cooking whole, stuffed poultry in a microwave oven is not recommended. The stuffing might not reach the temperature needed to destroy harmful bacteria.

Microwave Defrosting

    * Remove food from packaging before defrosting. Do not use foam trays and because they are not heat stable at high temperatures. Melting or warping may cause harmful chemicals to migrate into food. ( There is some controversy about this.)
    * Cook meat, poultry, egg casseroles, and fish immediately after defrosting in the microwave oven because some areas of the food may begin to cook during the defrosting time. Do not hold partially cooked food to use later.
    * Cover foods with a lid or a microwave-safe plastic wrap to hold in moisture and provide safe, even heating.
    * Heat ready-to-eat foods such as hot dogs, luncheon meats, fully cooked ham, and leftovers until steaming hot.
    * After reheating foods in the microwave oven, allow standing time. Then, use a clean food thermometer to check that food has reached 165 °F.

Containers & Wraps

    * Only use cookware that is specially manufactured for use in the microwave oven. Glass, ceramic containers, and all plastics should be labeled for microwave oven use.
    * Plastic storage containers such as margarine tubs, take-out containers, whipped topping bowls, and other one-time use containers should not be used in microwave ovens. These containers can warp or melt, possibly causing harmful chemicals to migrate into the food.
    * Microwave plastic wraps, wax paper, cooking bags, parchment paper, and white microwave-safe paper towels should be safe to use. Do not let plastic wrap touch foods during microwaving.
    * Never use thin plastic storage bags, brown paper or plastic grocery bags, newspapers, or aluminum foil in the microwave oven.