How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works
 

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
 
Question 690

Don't microwaves change the molecular structure and composition of food, by ejecting some electrons from atoms and forming cancer-causing free radicals? If I should stand away from a microwave to avoid possible leakage, why would I eat microwaved food?
Microwaves don't affect the molecular structure of the food, except through the thermal effects we associate with normal cooking (e.g., denaturing of proteins with heat and caramelizing of sugars). That's because, like all electromagnetic waves, microwaves are emitted and absorbed as particles called "photons." The energy in a microwave photon is so tiny that it can't cause any chemical rearrangement in a molecule. Instead, it can only add a tiny amount of heat to a water molecule. During the microwave cooking process, microwave photons stream into the food and heat it up. But millions of them would have to work together in order to cause non-thermal chemical changes in the food molecules and they don't normally do that. The photons can only work together if there is a conducting material, such as a metal wire, inside the oven. In that case, the photons can accelerate mobile electric charges along the conducting paths and create sparks. Such sparks can cause chemical damage, but nothing worse than the chemical damage caused by scorching food with a flame or broiler. Even if your microwave is full of sparks for some reason, I doubt that the food will be any worse for you than it would be if you cooked it over an open flame or barbecue.
         

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