Cooking with a microwave

In October 2007, at least 270 people in 36 American states got sick with Salmonella after eating Banquet Pot Pies, leading to a national recall and prompting many to question the safety of microwave cooking. Since the outbreak, the manufacturer, ConAgra, has revamped their labeling to try to ensure proper microwave preparation by consumers.  But questions still loom whether these label changes are enough, and may leave people wondering how to properly cook using a microwave.

For thick items that can’t be cut:
∑ use medium power;
∑ microwave for a longer period of time;
∑ stir, turn, or flip food halfway through to limit cold spots;
∑ let food stand for a couple minutes when finished microwaving; and,
∑ be cautious of bones (they can act as heat shields.

There are many other variables that dictate how well food is cooked in the microwave, including:
∑ type of container;
∑ physical state of food (frozen or thawed);
∑ type of food;
∑ product geometry;
∑ moisture content;
∑ bone presence; and,
∑ microwave wattage.

The wattage of a microwave is located on the back or inside the door.  Microwave power is grouped into high (1000 – 1300 W), medium (700-900 W) and low (500-600 W).  Many labels on microwave foods give cook times for high, medium and low wattage microwaves, so it is handy to know the wattage being used.

There are hundreds of frozen, prepared products or meals, like pot pies, that may contain raw or fully cooked ingredients. The only way to know is to read labels carefully. Package labels may also contain instructions to cook to 165°F for poultry and 160°F for beef and other meats, and to verify doneness using a digital, tip-sensitive thermometer.  To be on the safe side, leftovers should reach 145°F.