How Long Should You Let Food Sit After Microwaving And Why?

According to the statistics, more than 77 million Americans consume microwave foods. Microwave food has become popular because it’s convenient, especially in a hurry. However, if you’ve ever eaten the food immediately after microwaving, you’ve likely burnt your tongue. This is because microwaves heat food unevenly, meaning the outside of the food gets hot while the inside remains cold. So when the microwave timer goes off, it doesn’t mean your food is ready to eat.

How Long Should You Let Food Sit After Microwaving?

According to food and microwave manufacturers, you should let food sit for at least 2 minutes or until the food reaches an internal temperature of at least 140° for precooked commercial prepared foods and 165°F for poultry and other meats. Manufacturers of prepackaged meals include the heating and resting instructions on the back of the box. The resting period allows the heat to distribute evenly throughout the food. During the resting period, the temperature of the food can rise several degrees, making it hot all the way through.

Eating the food right away can lead to airway and esophageal thermal burns, which are painful. Or you will find yourself eating food that is not cooked all the way through and is still cold in the center. 

So, even though the microwave is a fast and convenient way to prepare food, there are some steps you need to take to ensure you’re cooking the food properly and not burning yourself.

Why Do You Let Microwave Meals Stand?

Microwaves, unlike ovens, work by shooting waves through food to make the water molecules inside it vibrate. This is how microwaves cook food quickly. 

The problem is that these waves don’t heat evenly. So the outside of the food gets hot while the inside remains cold.

There are still cold spots when you take the food out of the microwave. This is why you should stir or rotate the food during the heating process. 

The microwave cooks foods from the edges inward, so stirring or rotating the food helps to cook the food evenly.

Another reason to let foods sit is it reduces the chances of being burnt by the steam. When you heat food in the microwave, it creates steam. You’ve likely been burnt by that steam, especially if you opened the microwavable container right after nuking the food.

Can You Eat Microwaved Food Straight Away?

Yes, but there’s a good chance you’ll suffer from aerodigestive tract burns. This occurs when you ingest scorching food (usually microwaved) and suffer extreme burns in the upper respiratory tract, which can compromise the airway tract.

Instances of aerodigestive tract burns are rare, but in one such instance, a 21-year-old male student was admitted to the hospital after eating a jacket potato immediately after microwaving it. 

Five hours after ingesting the potato, he experienced difficulty breathing. X-rays showed no significant damage, but he was treated with steroids through a nasogastric tube for the burns in his throat. The hospital discharged him after three days.

So, while you can eat microwaved food immediately, it’s not advisable unless the food has cooled down to a safe temperature.

If you’re in a hurry, you can eat the food after nuking it, but be careful of the steam. When you open the microwavable container, hold it away from your face to avoid being burnt by the hot steam.

Also, take small bites and chew slowly to avoid burning your mouth or throat.

Why It’s Important To Let Microwave Food Rest?

As mentioned above, the biggest reason to let food rest is to prevent injury and avoid eating food that isn’t heated properly. However, another reason most people don’t think about is dangerous bacteria that can survive on foods that aren’t heated properly.

Microwaves can’t actually kill bacteria, but they create heat hot enough to kill bacteria in foods. So, you don’t have to worry about bacteria in microwave foods, as they are already precooked and just need to be reheated.

However, if you’re cooking meat in the microwave, you run the risk of not cooking the meat all the way through, which can lead to dangerous bacteria surviving. 

That’s why cooking all foods to a safe internal temperature is vital. Below is a chart of the proper internal temperature of the most common foods, according to the FDA.

Internal TemperatureFoods
165°F 74°CPoultry, turkey, duck, ground and whole chicken, fish
155°F 68°Cfish, hamburgers, game animals, sausage, ground pork, ground meats
145°F 63°Cpork roasts, veal, lamb, beef roasts, beef steaks, fish, eggs
140°F 60°Ccommercially pre-packaged foods (unless otherwise stated in instructions
135°F 57°Cvegetables

3 Types of Bacteria Found In Food

Several types of bacteria can grow on food. However, the three can that can pose the most significant risk to human health are:

  • Escherichia coli: E-coli lives in the intestines of healthy people and animals. Most strains are harmless, but some can cause serious illnesses, including diarrhea, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and bloodstream infections.
  • Salmonella: This bacteria is found in raw meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. It can also be found on surfaces like cutting boards and countertops.
  • Shigella: According to the CDC, there are over 400,000 infections in the U.S yearly. Shigella is transmissible via food, contaminated water, surfaces, etc.

If you’re reheating food in the microwave, make sure it’s steaming hot all the way through. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the food. It should be at least 165°F throughout the food.

Bacteria can survive on foods that are not cooked all the way through, and if you eat those foods, you can get food poisoning. The symptoms of food poisoning depend on the type of bacteria, but they can include stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, and fever.

In severe cases, food poisoning can lead to death. So it’s essential to ensure the food is cooked correctly, and letting it rest is one way to ensure that.

How Hot Does Food Get In A Microwave?

Microwaves can heat liquids and food to 212°F or the boiling point of water. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), The “danger zone” for food ranges between 40° and 140°F.

Bacteria gets killed when food heats to 165°F or more, so food heated in the microwave to this temperature is considered safe.

Should You Let The Food Sit In The Microwave or On The Counter?

It doesn’t matter whether you let the food sit in the microwave or take it out and rest it on the container. Most frozen dinner instructions state to leave the food in the microwave to cool before removing it. The reason the package says this is to prevent people from getting burned.

That said, food tends to cool quicker when removed from the microwave. In addition, microwaved foods don’t hold heat the same way foods cooked in conventional ovens do.  

When removing the contents from the microwave, use a hot pad or oven mitt as the container will be hot. If you’ve reheated soup or gravies, stir them with a spoon to ensure they are adequately heated.

Transfer prepackaged foods to a plate or bowl after microwaving. 

Unless you’re like me, you don’t reheat the food in the package because it’s usually plastic and not meant to be heated. In addition, some containers, such as plastic, contain bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates which are chemicals that can leach into food.

There’s not much to do when resting microwaved food. Just set the timer on your phone for two minutes and wait.

Final Word

It’s important to let food rest after microwaving for several reasons. The main reason is to prevent injury from eating food that isn’t heated properly. 

However, you also need to be aware of the danger zone for bacteria growth and ensure food is heated to a safe internal temperature.

So, even though eating your food right away may be tempting, it’s best to let it sit for a bit first. 

Your taste buds and your health will thank you for it.

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