MadSci Network: Medicine

Re: Is it safe to use a microwave that has pitting/burns to inside?

Date: Thu Dec 10 14:17:08 2009
Posted By: W Emory Lawrence MD, M.D., Family Practice/Emergency Medicine, Clay County Hospital
Area of science: Medicine
ID: 1259188272.Me

Thank you for this interesting question.

Microwave ovens work by irradiating food with radio frequency energy at a 
very specific wavelength. The vibrations are at just the right frequency to 
cause water molecules to vibrate vigorously at just the same rate, and heat 
up...we're talking gigahertz here - trillions of cycles per second. 
radiation only heats food, it could never "contaminate" anything.

So, the problem is not so much keeping microwaves away from your cup of 
in the oven, as it is keeping them away from you. You don't want your own 
molecules jiggling from microwaves - the heat generated could damage 
tissue like the lens of your eye, resulting in cataracts.

Microwave ovens are carefully designed with special shielding to prevent 
microwave energy from leaking out. If arcing or other damage has occurred 
then the shielding might have been compromised, making the oven unsafe. 
Besides, arcing can start a fire.

I would trash the microwave. New units are cheap enough that it is not 
the risks of using a damaged one. You could set your house on fire, or be 
harmed by leaking microwaves and not know it until you started to go blind, 
months or  even years after exposure!

W Emory Lawrence, MD

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