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What You Need to Know About Reheating Food in the Microwave

The USDA breaks down what’s safe to warm up in the microwave and what you should avoid at all costs.

reheating food

Microwave ovens have changed the way we cook and eat food since they first debuted in 1970. The warming process is actually quite simple: When you press start on your appliance, microwaves begin to bounce around the chamber, infiltrating excited electromagnetic molecules into whatever food product you’re cooking to make it warm.

If you’re a regular in the kitchen — and even if you’re not — then you’ve likely heard that putting aluminum foil in the microwave causes it to heat up too quickly and catch on fire, or that microwaving plastic storage containers can melt harmful chemicals into your food.

But when it comes to the food itself, what can you safely warm up in the microwave?

Around Thanksgiving this past year, photos went viral of people cooking full-sized birds in their microwaves, as well as screen shots of people tricking their mothers over text into thinking that they were going to do so. In addition to moms everywhere, health experts also expressed concern, because although you can technically cook a 12- to 14-pound turkey in the microwave, many do not always follow the protocol for cooking food safely in that way, according to Meredith Carothers, technical information specialist for the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

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