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Microwave ovens heat food using microwaves, a form of electromagnetic radiation similar to radio waves. Microwaves have three characteristics that allow them to be used in cooking: they are reflected by metal; they pass through glass, paper, plastic, and similar materials; and they are absorbed by foods.
A device called a magnetron inside the oven produces microwaves. The microwaves reflect off the metal interior of the oven and cause the water molecules in food to vibrate. This vibration results in friction between molecules, which produces heat that cooks the food.
Microwaves are non-ionizing radiation, so they do not have the same risks as x-rays or other types of ionizing radiation. But, microwave radiation can heat body tissues the same way it heats food. Exposure to high levels of microwaves can cause skin burns or cataracts. Less is known about what happens to people exposed to low levels of microwaves.
To ensure that microwave ovens are safe, manufacturers are required to certify that their microwave oven products meet the strict radiation safety standard created and enforced by the FDA.
Microwave energy will not leak from a microwave in good condition. A damaged microwave oven may present a risk of microwave energy leaks. Contact your microwave’s manufacturer for assistance if your microwave oven has damage to its door hinges, latches, or seals, or if the door does not open or close properly.
- Risk of Burns from Eruptions of Hot Water Overheated in Microwave Ovens (November 28, 2007)
- Use Your Microwave Safely (November 12, 2008)
- Microwave Oven Radiation (July 14, 2006)
- Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Website
Manufacturers of electronic radiation emitting products sold in the United States are responsible for compliance with the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA), Chapter V, Subchapter C - Electronic Product Radiation Control.
Manufacturers of microwave ovens are responsible for compliance with all applicable requirements of Title 21 Code of Federal Regulations (Subchapter J, Radiological Health) Parts 1000 through 1005:
In addition, microwave ovens must comply with radiation safety performance standards in Title 21 Code of Federal Regulations (Subchapter J, Radiological Health) Parts 1010 and 1030.10:
Required Reports for the Microwave Oven Manufacturers or Industry
Industry Guidance - Documents of Interest
Information Requirements for Cookbooks and User and Service Manuals (PDF Only)(PDF - 495KB) Guide for Establishing and Maintaining a Calibration Constancy Intercomparison System for Microwave Oven Compliance Survey Instruments (FDA 88-8264)] (PDF Only)(PDF - 826KB) Procedures for Laboratory Testing of Microwave Ovens(PDF - 705KB) Procedures for Field Testing Microwave Ovens(PDF - 2.7MB) Date of Manufacture Label on Radiation-Emitting Consumer Electronics Information Requirements For Cookbooks, and User and Service Manuals(PDF - 233KB) Guidance for Industry and FDA Staff - Addition of URLs to Electronic Product Labeling