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Practices -- Microwave

What are some general guidelines for microwave cooking?

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Thorough cooking is the traditional way to kill any bacteria present on meat. Because a microwave oven might not cook food evenly, do the following to ensure even cooking. If using a microwave oven to thaw meat, frozen dinners or foods, such as casseroles that contain meat, complete the cooking process immediately after thawing. You can complete cooking in any manner (oven, grill, stovetop, or microwave). Remove food from plastic wrap, freezer cartons, and/or styrofoam trays before thawing and cooking. They are not heat stable and could cause migration of compounds from the container/plastic wrap to the food. Thawing food in a microwave oven should not take longer than two hours. Set a timer so you won't forget it is in the microwave. De-bone larger pieces of meat that are to be microwave-cooked. The bone causes uneven heating around it. Arrange items uniformly on microwave safe cookware. Covering with a microwave safe lid or with plastic wrap (do not let plastic touch the food) traps steam in the cooking vessel and helps kill bacteria and ensure even heating. Cook larger pieces of meat at 50% power. This allows the heat to penetrate further into the meat without overcooking the outer portions. Move individual pieces of food in the container several times during cooking to even out exposure to microwaves. Stir liquids several times. For mixtures, like casseroles that have a topping, turn the dish several times during the cooking process. Do not cook whole stuffed turkeys in the microwave. The density of the bird and stuffing do not allow for even cooking. Never partially cook meat in a microwave or conventional oven. If microwave cooking is done to speed up the total cooking process then it must be followed immediately by another cooking method (grill, oven, stovetop). Use a temperature probe or remove meat and check with a meat thermometer to see that meat is adequately cooked. Check the temperature in several places. Cook red meat until it reaches at least 160 degrees F, and poultry to at least 180 degrees F. Adjust cooking times for lower powered microwave ovens. A meat thermometer or temperature probe should be used to verify end point temperature of meats. Juices should run clear for meats and poultry. Allow time in meal preparation for the recommended standing time. This allows heat to penetrate to the center of the meat. Heat leftovers to 165 degrees F, which is very hot to the touch and is steaming. Oven roasting bags are safe for use in the microwave oven. Like covering the food with a lid, they also promote even cooking. Do not reuse trays and containers that came with microwave convenience foods. They are designed for one use only. Do not reuse microwave trays that have a browning or crispness device in the package. Handle carefully as they get very hot during cooking.

PREPARED BY: Angela M. Fraser, Ph.D., Associate Professor/Food Safety Specialist, and Carolyn J. Lackey, Ph.D., R.D., L.D.N., Professor/Food and Nutrition Specialist, North Carolina State University (August 2004)

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