MEMO: Office Microwave Is A Mess

Last Editorial Review: 10/19/2004

Microwave ovens are a breeding ground for bacteria -- how can you clean yours up?

By Jeanie Lerche Davis
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD

Miss Manners, why do people let our office microwave oven get so filthy?

Go ahead; heat your lunch -- if you dare. All that muck and mire stuck to the microwave oven is enough make anyone a raw food fanatic.

One friend, now a work-at-home mother, remembers well the microwave at her former job. "It was disgusting, and what's more, it smelled, and that's really unappetizing. There were fingerprints all over it, and the pushbuttons were filthy."

In fact, "if the health inspector came to your house or office, I doubt it would pass ... a microwave can get pretty disgusting," says Beth Kitchin, MS, RD, professor of nutrition sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, tells WebMD.

"People are so afraid of food poisoning in restaurants, but studies have shown that our own kitchens are much worse than any restaurant," she says.

Not that the crusty stuff inside a microwave will poison you. When you blast something in the microwave oven, you do kill bacteria, says Kitchin. "Cooking is one of the best ways to kill bacteria. I've seen reports that 70% of raw chicken has campylobactor bacteria. When you cook it thoroughly, it's unlikely that bacteria would survive."

Some tips:

  • To keep your microwave oven clean and smelling fine, regularly swab it, inside and out, with household cleaner containing bleach. Then, use water to wipe off the cleaner, or you'll smell bleach after you cook.
  • Keep the microwave oven door open between uses can help cut back on lingering odors.

To prevent splatters, don't forget to cover your food, advises Laura Molseed, RD, a dietitian with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center:

  • Use plastic wrap, resting it on top of the container -- not touching the food or sealing the container -- to create steam that heats food quickly and kills bacteria. Just be sure to create a vent, or your food will explode.
  • If you're using the microwave to defrost food, make sure you immediately cook it because it's already started to heat, thus you've created an environment for bacteria to grow.

SOURCES: Beth Kitchin, MS, RD, professor, nutrition sciences, University of Alabama at Birmingham. Laura Molseed, RD, dietitian, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

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