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Today, you can find a microwave oven in almost every American home. It makes thawing, reheating, and cooking food a lot easier, faster, and safer.
In fact, research proposed that the nutrient quality and safety of your food cooked in a microwave is actually the same as when you cook it using the conventional method, provided that you comply with the microwave instructions appropriately.
Still, confusions remain as to whether you should microwave your food with a lid on or off.
Truthfully, all this time, I never cover my food when I microwave them. I thought microwaving food without the lid on would make the heat reach foods faster and hasten the cooking process.
Boy, was I wrong.
It turns out that covering your food can benefit you more than microwaving with the lid off.
Here are the reasons why you should cover your food in the microwave.
- Should you microwave with the lid on or off? Why do we cover food in the microwave?
- Covering your food loosely in the microwave
- Is it safe to microwave food without cover?
- What can I use to cover food in the microwave?
- Are plastic microwave covers safe?
- Top 3 best microwave food covers you can buy on Amazon
- Related Questions
Should you microwave with the lid on or off? Why do we cover food in the microwave?
Covering your foods when microwaving is recommended by health and food authorities, including the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.
The following are some advantages you can get when you microwave your food with a lid or cover.
Keep food from drying out
The main advantage of covering your food in the microwave is being able to hold in the necessary moisture that prevents your foods from drying out (this happens to me all the time when I reheat my food in the microwave without covering them).
If you’re cooking something that uses steam or water, such as pasta and rice, you should add extra moisture to give your food a taste of freshness.
You can also put a few tablespoons of water into the dish for extra water that can generate steam in your microwave and revamp the dish quickly.
I usually microwave foods that are prone to dry out (like pizza) with a glass of water, and it works great!
Hong Kong’s Centre for Food Safety stated that using a small amount of water in the microwave could help steams your food from the inside out, which helps retain more minerals and vitamins than any other cooking techniques.
Promote uniform cooking
Have you ever eaten a microwave reheated dish only to find that some parts of the food are still cold?
Well, you’re not alone.
One of the major drawbacks of microwave ovens is that it does not heat food evenly, leading to the formation of hot and cold spots in food.
Fortunately, covering your food can mitigate this problem.
When you cover your food, the trapped steam will be distributed uniformly across your food and help cook your food more evenly.
One study published in the Trumbull: Food & Nutrition Press, Inc. reported that uneven heating from microwave cooking can be prevented by covering your food.
For a more even cooking in the microwave, practice the following tips:
- Arrange food items uniformly
- Debone big pieces of meat (bone can cause superficial cooking)
- Cut food into smaller size
- Put the thicker or bigger food portion towards the outside of the dish
- Rotate or stir the dish multiple times throughout the cooking process
- Allow the food to stand for about 2 minutes after cooking
USDA’s FSIS advised microwaving pre-cooked, fully cooked, leftovers, and ready-to-eat foods until steaming hot.
Help kill harmful bacteria
According to USDA’s FSIS, when you cover your food in the microwave, the trapped moist heat can destroy harmful germs.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that home microwave can destroy certain kinds of bacteria, including E.coli and Salmonella, as well as some viruses within 1 to 5 minutes. A higher rate of disinfection can be achieved with a higher-powered microwave.
In another study published in the Journal of Environmental Health, researchers from Gainesville, Florida discovered that microwaving a sponge at full power within 1 to 2 minutes eliminates up to 99 % of bacteria.
Still, some public health experts caution against using microwaves as a disinfectant for food or sponge since they generate uneven heating. The cold spots mean that the food is not hot enough to destroy bacteria; an issue noted by CDC when using microwaves to sterilize things.
The CDC offers a guideline to combat this problem by using a food thermometer to make sure that each part of the food is heated to the right temperature or safe internal temperature.
Since covering your food helps distribute heat evenly across all parts of the food, your chances of eliminating cold spots and germs would be higher.
Prevents food splatter
Another great advantage of covering your food is to avoid creating a “murder scene” when microwaving.
Some foods, especially greasy foods, tend to create a splatter of oil all over your microwave, which is unsightly and unhygienic.
Covering your food helps keep you away from this headache and mess.
Makes cleaning a lot easier
Since covering your food helps contain all food splatter, you don’t have to spend a lot of time and effort to clean the inside of a microwave that is splattered and stained with food remnants.
You can also facilitate the whole cleaning process by using a microwave cover that is dishwasher-safe and easy-to-clean.
Covering your food loosely in the microwave
While a cover can contain the steam and moisture, you should cover your food loosely in the microwave.
Leaving a small area uncovered will allow some steam and heat to escape and avoid condensation.
If you don’t include vents, the pressure would build up inside the covered area and may lead to a messy explosion in the microwave.
This principle is the reason why it is not recommended to cook eggs with their shells still intact as steam would build up inside and causes an explosion. Instead, you should remove or crack their shells and pierce their yolk or white a few times before cooking them in the microwave.
Likewise, if you’re using plastic wraps as a food cover in the microwave, they must be vented at the corner since some wraps may tighten and split when heated. You can vent them yourself by piercing a few holes on top of the plastic wraps using a small sharp knife.
Is it safe to microwave food without cover?
Although no food safety concerns have been reported when it comes to microwaving food without a cover, it is not without disadvantage.
The downsides of not covering your food when microwaving include:
- Produce uneven cooking
- Incomplete destruction of some germs due to cold spots
- Result in dried-out foods, where both the texture and flavor of the food are destroyed
- Creating a dirty mess on the insides of microwave due to food splatter
- Lead to vexing clean-up
What can I use to cover food in the microwave?
While covering your food during microwave cooking is a great idea, you do need to be cautious of the type of cover you use since not all types of materials are microwave-safe.
The following are some items you can use to cover or wrap foods in the microwave:
- Plastic wraps: Properly hold in heat and steam. They are best used for covering fish and vegetables. The FDA advised using those marked with a microwave-safe label to ensure food safety.
- Wax paper: Helps contain heat for quicker cooking without steaming your foods. It is best used to cover meat and fruit.
- Parchment paper: Also referred to as baking paper, parchment paper, be it white or brown, are considered microwave-safe.
- Paper towels, plates, napkins, and bags: Some foods are covered with paper towels to absorb extra moisture. The USDA FSIS recommends using white and unprinted materials for optimum safety.
- Glass-ceramic like Corning Ware and heat-proof glass, such as Pyrex: Great alternatives to plastic covers. Best used for foods that need steam and moisture as a tenderizer, such as meats, casseroles, and vegetables.
- Microwave cooking bags: These bags hold in a maximum amount of moisture which helps retain food’s juices.
- Foil: Foils should only be used sparingly to cover certain areas of meat that have been fully cooked.
- Storage bags: These bags are typically used for minimal cooking or reheating since they do not do well in high temperatures.
- Any cover with a microwave-safe label: Microwave-safe products are those that leach an estimated lower amount of chemicals than the maximum allowable amount into food.
Although some plastic wraps are microwave-safe, they may become extremely hot and melt when they touch food, especially those with a high amount of fat or sugar.
So you should allow some space (at least one inch) between the plastic wraps and your food to eliminate the possibility of the plastic wraps making contact with your dish.
USDA’s FSIS warns against using the following containers and wraps in the microwave oven:
- Aluminum foil
- Brown paper
- Plastic grocery bags
- Thin plastic storage bags
- Metal pans
- Foam-insulated trays or plates
- Cold storage containers
When taking off the coverings, be sure to direct them away from your body and face to prevent getting burnt by the hot steam.
Are plastic microwave covers safe?
Various chemicals are released from plastics into foods or liquids that you heat in the microwave. The types of chemical released depend on the types of plastic you’re using.
Fatty foods like cheese and meat tend to absorb a high amount of these chemicals.
However, according to WebMD’s director of nutrition, Kathleen M. Zelman, most plastic microwave covers are FDA-certified and safe for microwave use. They are used as a replacement for plastic wrap, which people normally used to cover their food in the microwave.
Zelman also proposed microwave covers as cheaper, reusable, greener, and dishwasher-safe alternatives.
Dr. Russ Hauser from Harvard Medical School, however, recommends staying away from heating food in plastic since it’s difficult to know the plastics’ exact structure and additives content.
Top 3 best microwave food covers you can buy on Amazon
Before buying a microwave food covers, you need to consider the following factors:
- Size: Pick one that can cover your food properly and can fit in your microwave tray.
- Material: Be sure to choose those that care microwave safe and have food-grade quality.
- Shape: Microwave covers typically come in two distinct shapes: dome and flat. Those with flat designs let you stack your food one on top of the other at once while domed covers only let you heat one dish at a time.
- Style: Depending on your preferences, you might want to choose a cover that is transparent to easily see the foods inside, have top or side handles, or have other aesthetic designs and colors.
- Warranty: Knowing you have an option to replace or refund a microwave cover that doesn’t perform as you expected can give you considerable peace of mind.
Microwave covers usually have holes to release some steam but not so much as to let the food stay moist.
Here are my top 3 microwave food covers recommendations:
Cuchina Safe 2-in-1 Cover ‘n Cook Vented Glass Microwave Plate
Nordic Ware 10" Splatter Covers, 2 Pack
Microwave plate cover with Magnetic
If you want a safe alternative to plastic microwave covers, this product may be perfect for you.
Designed by a breast cancer survivor, this cover is made of tough borosilicate glass that can withstand up to 450°
Unlike plastic and silicone, it won’t absorb unpleasant smell and germ.
It is also multifunctional and can serve as a 2qt baking dish.
If you want a microwave cover that’s best for value, then you might like this one.
It has a simple design but does the job well in preventing food splatter.
Since it is translucent, you can monitor the progress of your dish easily while microwaving.
It is made of BPA-free and melamine-free plastic, so you don’t have to worry about exposing your food to harmful chemicals.
Popularly known as hover cover, the unique thing about this cover is that it comes with four magnets on top of the cover.
These magnets allow you to easily store the cover on your microwave’s roof after using it, thereby saving space in your kitchen.
It is made of food-safe and PBA-free plastic for safe heating and has perforated steam vents to release extra moisture.
However, you can’t use it for longer than 10 minutes. If you’re cooking a dish that took longer, then you need to take out the cover after 10 minutes and let it cool off before continuing.
What happens when you microwave your food?
When food is microwaved, microwave radiation causes the food’s water molecules to vibrate, which generates heat that cooks the food. Microwave ovens, however, do not cook food inside-out, change its molecular or chemical structure, or make it radioactive.
Can you put things on top of the microwave?
Some things, such as microwave-safe items, microwave metal rack, and microwave grills, can be placed on top of the microwave. Laying a heat-proof protective layer on top of the microwave helps secure the items in place and protect them from microwave heat.