Is it bad to leave food on top of your microwave?

The other night, as I was microwaving some popcorn, my roommate looked over and gasped, "No, you shouldn't do that!" She sounded shocked and downright scandalized.

"Make popcorn?" I asked, completely confused.

"No, leave food on top of the microwave," she said, pointing to the box of cereal and water bottle I had put on top of the microwave.

"What? Why?"

"Because of the radiation," she told me, as if it were totally obvious and I'm an idiot for not knowing.

I moved the offending food off of the microwave as the popcorn finished, not having any sort of intelligent comeback. But I'm skeptical, and decided to look into it.

To answer the question of whether or not it's "bad" to store food on top of your microwave, you have to look at how microwaves work. According to the "Microwave Ovens and Food Safety" fact sheet from the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, microwaves contain a magnetron, which "converts ordinary electric power into very short radio waves." The frequency at which the waves are transmitted causes the water molecules in food to vibrate and produce enough heat to cook the food.

But microwaves use a type of energy wave that is similar to those found in "television, radios, electric shavers and radar," the fact sheet says. Microwaves are on the lower end of the electromagnetic spectrum, and are no where near as powerful or potentially dangerous as those on the higher end like x-rays and nuclear radiation.

The only way storing food on top of the microwave could be dangerous is if that microwave has a leaky seal or door. The FDA puts a limit on the amount of microwaves that can leak from an oven that is "far below the level known to harm people."

In an interview with the Daily Green, an environmental news website, Mark Connelly, the deputy technical director of Consumer Reports said that the microwaves his company have tested have all shown "very little leakage of radiation."

If that is the case, it looks as if storing food on top of your microwave is no more dangerous than storing it next to a radio or by a television. And it's no more dangerous than actually cooking your food in a microwave. So take that, roommate.

Of course, there is plenty of discussion surrounding how safe cooking food in a microwave actually is, but perhaps that's a topic for another time (or blog post).

Image courtesy of Learn Something New Everyday.


Sometimes statements such as the one that your roommate said to you make me laugh. however I myself do not know a lot about radiation, and I'm sure that you didn't either, so although it seems kind of funny that your roommate would say that to you, for all we both know it could be true. With radiation, and other cancer causing topics, i think that there is a general ignorance within the public, and to be honest sometimes its hard to decide what to and not to believe because for all we know it could be true or completely false

It seems like there are two kinds of people when it comes to getting cancer. There are the people who believe everything gives you cancer, or that its bologna. I believe in the second one of those. But it does make some sense that food atop the microwave could be dangerous. Lets just hope the microwaves dont have leaks

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