Huntington Theatre Company's production of Hedda Gabler, at the BU Theatre, through Jan. 28

Vol. IV No. 18   ·   12 January 2001 


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How can I be sure my microwave oven is safe to use? Should I leave the room while nuking the Lean Cuisine?

When microwave ovens first became available for home use in the late 1960s, consumers felt there was something exciting yet vaguely sinister about an appliance that zapped food with radio waves, cooking or reheating it in seconds. Many of us may recall being told that it was hazardous to watch through the oven's glass window because it could cause blindness, or that standing too close posed a risk of radiation poisoning. Just how safe are these contraptions today? We checked with Victor Evdokimoff, adjunct assistant professor and director of radiation protection at the MED Campus.

According to Evdokimoff, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration set performance standards for microwave ovens in 1971. All ovens manufactured after that year have been required to include fail-safe mechanical interlock systems to prevent the machine from running while the door is open, even if you pop the door before the cooking time is up. (The noise that continues at that point is just the fan; the radiation stops instantly.)

On the other hand, if you find that the door doesn't close properly, if the latch, seals, or hinges are broken, or if the oven was made before 1971, Evdokimoff advises getting the appliance checked by someone in a state or regional office of the FDA. Avoid do-it-yourself testing devices, as these are considered unreliable.

Is it a good idea to stand back while the oven is on? "There is some radiation leakage allowed by law, but it's very low," Evdokimoff says. "To add to the margin of safety already built into the oven, don't stand directly against it for long periods of time while it's operating, and don't allow children to do this. But if you're more than a foot or two away, there's no issue.

"The FDA has done a lot of testing and found almost no leakage in ovens made after '71," he adds. "At BU we've gone around and checked the microwave ovens in the cafeterias, and it's very rare to find any problems."

"Ask the Bridge" welcomes readers’ questions. E-mail or write to "Ask the Bridge," 10 Lenox Street, Brookline, MA 02446.


17 January 2001
Boston University
Office of University Relations