Microwave ovens are found in 90 percent of American households and for many families a microwave can be convenient, quick, and easy to use. However, a microwave can also pose potential risks for children such as burns and unhealthy eating habits.
We asked both Children’s National Health System’s emergency pediatrician, Joanna Cohen, MD, to weigh in on the potential dangers microwaves pose and provide safety tips for families.
Dangers of Microwave Ovens
For children, the most common microwave injury is burns. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children can be burned by removing dishes from the microwave, spilling hot foods or liquids, opening microwave popcorn bags and other containers, and eating food that is cooked unevenly or has hot spots.
Dr. Cohen noted that hot soups or water tend to be the biggest problem for children because the containers get soft, which can cause the water to spill on the children. Dr. Cohen emphasized that parents should make sure children are old enough and tall enough to reach the food or beverage they are heating up in the microwave.
Additionally, sometimes families tend to rely on convenient, microwaveable foods, which can be high in calories and fat. On occasion, these foods are fine for children to consume, but Children’s National dietitian Megan Barna, MS, RD, LD, mentioned that families should not rely on them too much. Instead, Barna recommended that families eat leftovers, focus on fruits and vegetables, and avoid prepackaged vegetables with sauces and cheese.
Microwave Safety Tips
There are several ways parents can help keep their children safe when using a microwave, including the following tips from Dr. Cohen and Barna.
- Dr. Cohen recommended that children only use microwave-safe cookware and containers
- Remind children to follow the microwave instructions on the package
- Show children how to use a food thermometer to check the temperature in several different spots of the food
- For reheated foods, make sure the temperature is 165 degrees to avoid foodborne illness
- Teach children to use potholders when removing anything from the microwave
- Barna recommended that parents instruct older children to stir food well or let it stand for two minutes before tasting it so the heat can distribute evenly
- Demonstrate how to safely open a container or popcorn bag so the steam escapes away from their hands and face
- If defrosting food in a microwave oven, Barna recommended using the defrost setting or putting the microwave on 30 percent power
- Once the food is thawed out, Barna said it should be cooked immediately
- If children are too young to read or follow written food preparation directions or the microwave oven keypad, they are too young to use a microwave oven without supervision, according to the AAP
"The microwave differs from the stove because it cooks more unevenly. It’s more important to cover food, rotate more often, and use a thermometer to check the temperature," Barna said.
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