Five kitchen urban legends explored

May 9th, 2013

Appliance Talk Kitchen

The kitchen is a place for cooking, and as recipes and techniques are passed down from generation to generation, cooking is an activity surrounded by legends and folklore.  However, as Doctor Henry Jones Junior once pointed out, folklore can sometimes prove dangerous when it starts being accepted as fact.

doctor henry jones junior

In addition to legends about food, more than a few myths have been passed down regarding appliances as well. While some of these myths have a basis in fact, many turn out to be inaccurate upon closer examination.

While we’re not scientists here at Appliances Online, we do care about how people use their appliances, so we’ve taken a look at five urban legends surrounding kitchen appliances and tried to shed some light on them where possible.

Legend 1: Microwaves and induction cooktops cook using radiation that’s dangerous to your health


radioactive-1Nothing like this.

The kind of radiation that we are absolutely certain causes cancer is ionising radiation, found in gamma rays and x-rays.  Microwaves and induction cooktops don’t use ionising radiation.


They do however use high-frequency electromagnetic radiation from the microwave spectrum (hence the microwave oven’s name), which is also used by mobile phones and wi-fi internet connections.  According to the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA):

“Extensive research has provided no substantiated evidence that microwave exposure, at any level, either causes or promotes cancer… Microwaves generated in microwave ovens cease to exist once the electrical power to the magnetron is turned off (like visible light from light globes). They do not remain in the food when the power is turned off. Neither can they make the food or the oven radioactive. Therefore, food cooked in a microwave oven is not a radiation hazard.” – ARPANSA Fact Sheet

ARPANSA goes on to say how microwaves only generate electromagnetic radiation when cooking, and even in this case, they are designed to keep this radiation sealed inside during operation – only a defective unit will leak even a tiny amount of the stuff, and even then, it has a very short range.  So you unless you routinely press your body up against the microwave while it’s operating (don’t do this – you’ll look silly), you shouldn’t be at any significant risk from using a microwave.

Chocolate induction cooking recipes

Induction cooktops utilise a different type of medium-frequency microwave radiation that only heats ferrous metals (that is, metals that can be affected by magnets) rather than organic material.  The majority of this radiation is absorbed by the cookware during use, but if any does escape, it also has a range of less than 30 cm.  Again, as long as you’re not pressed right up against your cooking, you should be fine.  A good summary can be found on the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health.

That said, people with pacemakers and other implanted electronics are still advised to avoid microwaves and induction cooktops, or stand well back while they’re in use, just in case.

Legend 2: Fridges and freezers are the most energy-efficient when full

True, actually, as long as you also maintain some good fridge usage habits.

lg-door-in-door-fridge-appliances-online“Damn Georgie, you must save a lot of money on your energy bills!” “Not if you leave the doors open like that!”

Because fridges and freezers work by cooling down the air inside the fridge, the more food you put in there, the less air is left to cool.  Simple, really.  Of course, you don’t want to overfill a fridge or freezer, as this means the air won’t properly circulate around your items, and you’ll want to keep the doors closed for as long as possible to keep the warm air out.

organised fridgeIt also helps when the fridge is organised.

It has been argued that this method of saving money on energy costs is offset by the cost of all the extra food you buy and quite possibly don’t use, but that doesn’t have to be the case.  Just buy as much food as your household needs (choosing the right size fridge can be helpful here), and if the fridge is starting to look a bit empty, just stick a bottle or two of water in there to take  up a bit of space without costing anything (plus, then you end up with chilled water, which is great for summer).

Legend 3: Dishes should be pre-rinsed before they get put in the dishwasher

Nope.  It’s time consuming and wholly unnecessary.

sad dishes“So you’re saying I’ve got to wash all this TWICE?!”

Sure, sticking the dishes in the dishwasher while they’ve still got half a hash brown stuck to them is a bad idea.  But there’s no problem with putting them in with crumbs and streaks of sauce still clinging to their surface.  If anything, it may even leave your dishes even cleaner, as the detergent will have something to cling to and won’t just slide right back off again.

Asko D5434SS dishwasher

The most preparation you’ll likely need to do when it comes to using most dishwashers is giving “baked on” stains a bit of a soak in cold water beforehand, just to loosen them up a bit.  Otherwise, as long as you load it properly (possibly with the help of a sing-along video), the dishwasher will do all the work for you.

Legend 4: Laying a fridge on its side will wreck it

No.  Well, not always.  There are certainly risks involved, but it’s not guaranteed.

Hazmat team with fridgeIf this fridge wasn’t already a health hazard, these guys might be wrecking it.

As we’ve gone through before, fridges are indeed designed to function standing up, with a delicate balance of coolants and other liquids in their tubes.  Laying them down will cause these coolants to drain out of the areas where they need to be, and if they’re not back in place when the fridge is started up again, the fridge’s performance will be affected, and could lead to damage.

Moving a fridge

That said, laying down your fridge when moving house isn’t the instant death sentence some people make it out to be.  If you’re only moving across town, then laying the fridge down in the back of the moving truck should be fine – just let it stand for an equal amount of time before plugging it back in.

Moving a further distance with a fridge laying down can be problematic though- if you’ve moved your fridge on an intercity trip laying down, leave it standing fora good 24 hours before starting it back up again, just to be sure.  And never lay it on its back – that’s where all the delicate machinery is, and you don’t want to crush that under the fridge’s weight.

Legend 5:Microwaves destroy the nutrients in your food

No more than any other cooking appliance, really.

We may jokingly refer to re-heating leftovers in the microwaves as “nuking” them, but as we’ve already established, microwave ovens use non-ionising electromagnetic waves to generate heat inside food, so there’s no radioactivity and no “sterilisation”.

nukeAnd no, it’s nothing like this either.

The microwave energy used by a microwave oven energises the water molecules in your food to cause them to heat up.  It may be a somewhat unusual way to generate heat when compared to frying, boiling or steaming, but the end result is functionally identical – the food gets hot, and its chemical composition changes so that it’s easier to digest (and tastier).

Some nutrients don’t survive the process (especially in particularly watery foodstuffs such as certain vegetables, as the nutrients “leach out” with the water during cooking), but in many cases these aren’t the “useful” kinds of nutrients.  To use the vegetables example, the nutrients used to encourage growth in a plant are entirely useless to a flesh and blood human being, and pass straight through our digestive tract.  Cooking can also activate and release particularly useful enzymes and nutrients in certain foods, allowing easier digestion and better use by our bodies.


Because microwaving is a relatively recent means of cooking, it isn’t always as easy to control as other cooking methods.  This makes it fairly easy to over or undercook your food, which can result in less-than-amazing quality meals that aren’t especially good for you (or tasty).  But to quote the CSIRO:

“Leaching effects aside, there seems to be little difference to the retention of nutrients between food cooked by microwaves or by conventional means, provided that cooking time and temperature guidelines are carefully followed.”

Do you have an appliance legend you’d like us to investigate?   Let us know!

Mark joined Appliances Online in November 2011 and has since learned more than he ever expected to know about appliances. He enjoys looking for new and unusual ways for to solve everyday problems using typical household appliances. When he’s not toiling at the desks of Appliances Online and Big Brown Box, he tries to find time to write the next big bestseller and draw satirical cartoons, but is too easily distracted by TV, music and video games. Mark’s favourite appliance is the Dyson Groom Tool, as he loves the concept of vacuuming your dog. Google+

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