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In a pickle: What to do if you have a microwave disaster

Katherine Martinelli is an internationally published food and travel writer and photographer who contributes regularly to publications on three continents. She recently released her first cookbook, Puff Pastry at Brunch: 10 Sweet and Sa...

Clean up and carry on

Whether your popcorn burns, soup boils over or, worse, there's a small fire, there's a solution for every microwave meltdown.
Microwave on fire

While it may sound scary or look like a failed science experiment, just remember that there's no use crying over spilled milk (or, in this case, exploded soup).

We've all had it happen: Maybe we left the microwave on for too long or forgot to take off the aluminum foil and, suddenly, things are overflowing or sparks are flying. Fortunately, for every kitchen disaster there is a solution. And, while the food may not be salvageable, chances are you'll learn how to prevent it from happening in the future.

Disaster: Your microwave catches fire

Why it happened: There are a few reasons why there might be a small fire in your microwave. If you accidentally leave a metal utensil or piece of aluminum foil in the microwave, then that could cause sparks which could ignite. If the microwave is very dirty, then residual oil or pieces of food could be the culprit. Cooking something for too long, whether popcorn or chicken breast, could also cause a fire.

What to do: If you notice a small fire in the microwave, immediately unplug it and leave the door closed to allow the fire to suffocate. If there is any risk that the fire may spread, immediately call the fire department.

How to prevent it in the future: Make sure that your microwave is clean and free of metal. Use a microwave-safe container and check on the food often. Ideally, microwave in short spurts to prevent overcooking.

Learn why plastics with BPA are bad for your health >>

Disaster: Your container melts

Why it happened: If you do not use microwave-safe containers, such as plastic take-out boxes, then chances are they will melt. Since they are not made to withstand the heat of the microwave, they will warp and even melt.

What to do: Even if your food doesn't spill out of the warped container, you should probably (carefully!) dispose of the melted container and the food. They contain harmful chemicals that could get into your food.

How to prevent it in the future: Invest in microwave-safe containers and dishes. Transferring your food into one of these containers only takes a little bit more effort and will save you messy clean-up and unnecessary exposure to chemicals.

Don't miss these tips on keeping the kitchen safe for kids >>

Disaster: Your bowl overfloweth

Why it happened: If your food is bubbling up or overflowing, then chances are the power was too high and/or the food was cooked too long.

What to do: Be careful! According to the National Fire Protection Association, 45 percent of the microwave oven injuries seen at U.S. emergency rooms in 2009 were scalds, and of those 31 percent of the scald burns and 14 percent of all microwave oven related injuries were scald burns incurred by children under 5 years of age. So allow the food to cool before cleaning up the mess.

How to prevent it in the future: Use the microwave on a lower setting and for less time. Microwave for 30 seconds at a time, or even less, to prevent overflowing.

In another pickle? Find more solutions to common kitchen problems >>

More kitchen safety tips

10 Safety tips to prevent kitchen fires
Safe knife skills in the kitchen
What to do if your oven catches fire

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