By S.E. Slack
Most people know that tossing baking soda on flames in the kitchen can help control a stove fire, but what should you do when a microwave oven catches on fire? These fires occur more than 7,000 times annually, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
Following safety tips can protect loved ones as well as property values.
“Cooking is, and has long been, the leading cause of home structure fires and home fire injuries,” says Marty Ahrens in a report for the association.
This is true for both fires reported to fire departments and those handled without fire department assistance. While range and cooktop fires comprise the highest number of kitchen fires, microwave ovens caused $31 million in property damage between 2007 and 2011. The use of aluminum foil in a microwave oven burned a home to the ground in Sacramento, Calif., for example.
About 17 percent of microwave oven home structure fires involved the casing for the oven. When a microwave – or food within it – catches fire, leave the door closed and turn it off. If you can safely unplug it, do so. Opening the door will allow oxygen into the fire, which can create a larger fire. Use your kitchen fire extinguisher if the fire does not quickly flame out.
Just over 40 percent of microwave oven injuries seen at emergency rooms are scalds. Scalds are skin burns caused by extremely hot liquids or foods. Children aged five and under comprised 20 percent of the victims.
Microwave ovens work by causing water, fat, and sugar molecules to vibrate 2.5 million times per second, producing heat. These molecules continue to produce heat as they come to a standstill. This additional cooking after microwaving stops is called “carryover cooking time,” “resting time” or “standing time.” It can last several minutes.
Experts say it’s a good idea to use hot pads when removing items from the microwave since food temperatures can reach above the 212 degree boiling point. Don’t let children handle microwaved foods or containers until they have cooled and can be touched without the hot pad.