Microbial inactivation by microwave radiation in the home environment

J Environ Health. 2006 Dec;69(5):17-24; quiz 39-40.


The study reported here looked at the survival of microorganisms (heterotrophic plate counts, total coliforms, E. coli, and bacterial spores) in a consumer-type microwave oven. Kitchen sponges, scrubbing pads, and syringes were experimentally contaminated with wastewater and subsequently exposed to microwave radiation. At 100 percent power level, it was found that the heterotrophic plate count (i.e., total bacterial count) of the wastewater was reduced by more that 99 percent within 1 to 2 minutes, and the total coliform and E. coli were totally inactivated after 30 seconds of microwave radiation. Bacterial phage MS2 was totally inactivated within 1 to 2 minutes. Spores of Bacillus cereus were more resistant than the other microorganisms tested, and were completely eradicated only after 4-minute irradiation. Similar inactivation rates were obtained in wastewater-contaminated scrubbing pads. Microorganisms attached to plastic syringes were more resistant to microwave irradiation than those associated with kitchen sponges or scrubbing pads. It took 10 minutes for total inactivation of the heterotrophic plate count and 4 minutes for total inactivation of total coliform and E. coli. A 4-log reduction of phage MS2 was obtained after 2 minutes; 97.4 percent reduction was observed after 12 minutes. The authors also observed a higher inactivation of B. cereus spores in syringes placed in a ceramic container than of spores in syringes placed in a glass container. This finding could have some implications for the design of containers to be used in exposure of medical devices to microwave radiation. The article discusses the implications of these findings for consumer safety in the home environment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / growth & development
  • Bacteria / radiation effects*
  • Food Microbiology*
  • Household Products / classification
  • Household Products / microbiology*
  • Microwaves*
  • Temperature