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Handle with care - dangers of micowave cooking


Published: 06/26/2012

by Ian Ferguson

Not long ago, my 26-year-old son decided to have a cup of instant coffee. He took a cup of water and put it in the

microwave to heat it up (something that he had done numerous times before). He wanted to bring the water to a boil.

When the timer shut the oven off, he removed the cup. As he looked into the cup, he saw that the water was not boiling. Then

the water suddenly blew up into his face. The cup remained intact but all the water had blown out into his face due to the

buildup of energy. His whole face was blistered and he had first-and second-degree burns, which may leave scarring. He may

also have lost partial sight in his left eye. While at the hospital, the doctor who was attending to him said that this is a fairly

common occurrence and water alone should never be heated in a microwave oven. If water is heated in this manner,

something such as a wooden stir stick or a tea bag should be placed in the cup to diffuse the energy.


Here’s the science behind this accident. The microwave actually superheated the water. This happened because the container

was new and therefore had a smooth inner surface. As the water heated, vapour bubbles – which would normally

release some of the heat – were unable to form. The water continued to heat past the boiling point.

When the water was disturbed by moving the cup, bubbles formed rapidly and the super-hot water was expelled. It’s not

unlike what happens when you open a carbonated beverage that’s been shaken. By placing a wooden stir stick in the cup,

you break the surface of the water, thereby allowing bubbles to form. Readers are urged to handle heated

water with care and make sure that if heating water alone in a microwave, something like a stir stick be placed in the container.






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