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Microwaves Tested for Safe, Balanced Heating

Throughout 2007, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracked at least 272 cases of Salmonella infection linked to ConAgra Foods’ Banquet chicken pot pies, prompting a recall of the frozen entrées that October. Microwaves were not heating the pot pies evenly to the recommended temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and as a result, Salmonella in the pies made people sick, hospitalizing 65 individuals.

The pot pie fiasco illustrated the importance of checking the temperature of food to ensure it is cooked evenly and thoroughly, especially when microwaves do the heating. A new round of tests by the nonprofit group Consumer Reports has graded 62 commercial microwaves on a number of criteria, the foremost being their ability to heat food evenly.

In total, three microwaves received “Excellent” evenness ratings, while three others received “Fair.” The remaining 56 microwaves rated either “Very Good” or “Good” at heating evenly, while none ranked as “Poor.”

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The microwaves that heated most evenly were the Panasonic Inverter NN-SD697 (pictured right), GE Profile JES2251SJ and Panasonic Prestige NN-SD997. 

The Whirlpool MT4110SP (pictured below), Half Time AAC34-S and Sanyo EM-S9519W performed the worst in the evenness test.

Consumer Reports recommends buying microwaves that scored either an “Excellent” or “Very Good” on their evenness rating. Microwaves that scored “Good” or lower left behind cool spots in foods when tested.

Three Kenmore models — the 6633, 6325 and 6912 — scored highest overall across the categories of heating evenness, auto defrost, ease of use and noise level. Each of those models received a “Very Good” rating for heating evenness.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends following all cooking directions when heating processed foods in the microwave, along with stirring the food halfway through the cooking time, even if the microwave rotates the food itself. After heating food in a microwave, cooks should use a food thermometer to check the temperature in several places.

The USDA also advises cooks to check their microwave’s wattage and zap foods for longer if the cooking instructions require greater wattage than their microwave produces. A microwave’s wattage should be listed on its serial number plate, according to Consumer Reports.

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Two years after the Banquet pot pie recall, New York Times reporters Michael Moss and Christine Kay made a video report testing their ability to evenly heat Banquet pot pies to safe temperatures. After microwaving one pie according to the box’s cooking instructions and another for longer than suggested, the reporters found that neither of the test pies reached a safe temperature throughout.

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