What if I told you the above images were recently released by the US government to confirm that, in fact, UFOs do exist? Would you be shocked? Well, sorry to disappoint but they are not UFOs. What they actually are, however, is just as shocking.

The above images are thermal shots of the same product being cooked in six different microwave ovens with hugely varying (and inconsistent) uniformity of heating. While this may not be a problem for Aunt Betty using her microwave to boil water for afternoon tea, it is a potentially life-threatening problem for the many individuals who purchase prepared, but not ready-to-eat foods.

For example, only last week the Minnesota Department of Health linked fourteen cases of salmonellosis to raw frozen chicken entrees. The products include breaded and pre-browned Chicken Kiev and Chicken Cordon Bleu made by Milford Valley Farms. The affected Chicken Cordon Blue products have code dates of C8121, C126 and C8133 printed on the side of the package. The implicated Chicken Kiev carries the date code C149. For Minnesota, this is the sixth outbreak of salmonella linked to similar products since 1998.

All of this, of course, begs the question—what responsibility does a food manufacturer like Milford Valley Farms have to their consumers regarding effective cooking directions and warning labels?

How about: “WARNING! This product is not cooked and is not ready-to-eat. Failure to adhere with exact precision to the cooking instructions, including the use of a 1000 watt microwave and cooking the product for the exact cooking time specified followed by the stated resting period, may cause vomiting, profuse diarrhea, dehydration, kidney failure, or death."  Mmm…sounds delicious. Now, who’s hungry for pot pie?

Over at the Kalamazoo Gazette, the AP’s Josh Funk has written a great piece on this issue, Undercooking a constant danger with microwave.  Especially useful is the "test your microwave" section where instructions are given to determine your microwave’s true wattage (especially important considering that microwaves lose power over time). 

In the end, the convenience of a quicky dinner from a microwaved entree sounds like more work, and risk, than it’s worth.  My tip?  Use an oven.  The classic kind.

For more commentary, see Dr. Doug Powell’s Barfblog site, including one of my personal favorite postings, Cooking the Poop Out of Pot Pies.