Holiday cooking: Microwaves can help to keep food safe

These guidelines can help to make sure that microwaved food is handled and cooked correctly.

Microwaves have become an indispensable kitchen helper for many cooks, whether it is in preparing a holiday meal, reheating a quick lunch or when making a snack. The United States Department of Agriculture and Michigan State University Extension stresses that microwave ovens can cook unevenly and leave "cold spots," where harmful bacteria can survive. It is important to follow tips and a few guidelines to make sure that food is handled and cooked correctly.

Here are a few guidelines to make sure your food is heated and cooked correctly in the microwave.

  • Cover the dish or food item- It is important to cover the food item to retain moisture and to ensure that the food is heated /reheated to the desired temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Heating the food to this temperature will ensure that harmful bacteria is destroyed.
  • Cooking large piece of meat: It is not advisable to cook large piece of meat on high (100 percent) power. Rather, cut them into smaller portions and heat at 50% power. You will want to increase the cooking time to make sure that the inside of the food is heated thoroughly.
  • Cold spots: When cooking food in a microwave oven “cold spots” can occur within the food item. To prevent cold spots or uneven cooking and reheating always cover the food and rotate the food when cooking it. This will help to eliminate bacteria that may otherwise survive in the cold parts of the heated food.
  • Standing time: Always use a food thermometer to certify that the food has reached the minimum internal temperature. It is recommended that all food have “standing time” Whether you're using a traditional oven or a microwave, standing time is an important concept in cooking or baking. When you remove a food from an oven or a microwave, the food retains heat and continues to cook for several minutes after it has been removed from the heat source. This process of the food continuing to cook, using the retained heat in the food itself, is called carryover cooking. It is the reason why many recipes call for standing time. Once food has been allowed standing time, you may use the food thermometer to check the temperature of the food.
  • Partially cooked food: If you partially cook a food item, like a frozen hamburger patty you cannot store it for later use. You must finish the cooking in an oven or grill. This must be done immediately to make sure that the food does not have any growth of bacteria. Finish cooking the food and use a food thermometer to check for doneness.
  • Microwaving stuffed poultry: It is not recommended to cook whole, stuffed poultry in a microwave oven. The microwave cooks food quickly and harmful bacteria may not be destroyed due to the fact the temperature inside the stuffed bird would not reach the desired temperature of 165 degrees. To prevent food poisoning always use a conventional oven to cook stuffed poultry.

Holiday times can be busy times for everyone, especially when cooking a meal for a large gathering. Microwaves can help to lessen the work, but don’t take shortcuts to keep food safe.

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