How Bad Is it To Stand Near a Microwave?

Hand reaching for mircrowave oven.

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You've heard the rumors: That standing near a microwave and absorbing the radiation it emits can cause serious damage to your health. But, is this true? Could a common household appliance that many use daily be seriously dangerous? To find out, we did a little digging, and here's what we learned.

FDA Regulation

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—who has regulated microwave oven manufacturing since 1971—microwave ovens are a safe and effective way to heat food. And unless you're exposed to high levels of micro waves (think: way more than the amount emitted by your microwave oven), negative effects on the human body have not been confirmed. In fact, the FDA reports that there have been no known radiation injuries linked to microwave oven use. "There have been allegations of radiation injury from microwave ovens, but none as a direct result of microwave exposure," their website reads. "The injuries known to the FDA have been injuries that could have happened with any oven or cooking surface," like being burned by hot food, splattering grease, or steam from food cooked in a microwave oven.

The New York Times Investigates

Additionally, The New York Times did some investigating of their own and found that standing in close proximity to your microwave is for the most part, harmless. "Every microwave that reaches the market must meet a requirement limiting the amount of radiation it can leak in its lifetime to five milliwatts per square centimeter at roughly two inches away from the oven," the article reports. "According to the Center for Devices and Radiological Health, that is far below the levels of radiation that have been shown to harm humans."

Though further long-term testing is needed (a caveat to virtually every scientific study) to fully determine the effects of radiation exposure from microwave oven use, as long as your microwave's door closes tightly and the latch is secure, there's no reason to believe that standing next to your microwave machine, eagerly awaiting your popcorn to pop or leftovers to reheat, is hazardous to your health. "Microwave ovens are designed so that the microwaves are contained within the oven itself," reads The American Cancer Society website, which adds, "Ovens that are damaged or modified, however, could allow microwaves to leak out, and so could pose a hazard to people nearby by potentially causing burns."

What The American Cancer Society Says

The truth is, microwaves do emit radiation, in a sense, but not the kind that would damage DNA, and the kind we typically associate radiation with. We're exposed to radiation every day, from natural sources like the sun and sky, and man-made sources like TV signals and WiFi, though that doesn't necessarily mean they're life-threatening. "Most lab studies done so far have supported the idea that RF [Radiofrequency] waves [or, the type used in microwave ovens] don't have enough energy to damage DNA directly. Because of this, it’s not clear how RF radiation might be able to cause cancer," according to the American Cancer Society website. That said, be sure your microwave's hinges and latches are working properly to avoid more radiation to be released than is originally intended, or burning yourself, advises the FDA. 

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