Microwave Expert

Microwave Burn Injuries among Young Children

A recent publication "Not child's play: National estimates of microwave – related burn injuries among young children" (Lowell, G. & Quinlan, K., J Trauma Acute Care Surg, volume 81, number 4, 520 – 524, 2016) was sent to me by Randall Cooper, VP Technical Operations and Standards for AHAM (Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers). The authors examined the extent of scald injuries sustained by children between the age of 12 months and four years as a result of removing microwave heated foods from a microwave oven. Previous studies had shown the children as young as 18 months were able to open a microwave oven and remove its contents, sometimes causing severe scalds. The authors examined the NEISS (National Electronic Injury Surveillance System) database maintained by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which collects information regarding all injuries treated in a nationally representative sample of approximately 100 Emergency Departments in the United States. In this case, the authors queried in the NEISS database and yearly increments from January 2002 through December 2012, focusing upon microwave related injuries to children in the age range of 12 months to four years. Their results indicated that approximately 11,000 children experienced microwave-related burns in that period, and of those, over 7000 were cases of children burned after accessing the contents of the microwave oven by themselves. A total of 1124 cases required hospitalization or transfer from the treating Emergency Department.

As to the previously mentioned study that children as young as 18 months can open a microwave oven, I can imagine a toddler wishing to help the parent who is preparing a meal, so the toddler opens the microwave oven door, only to have it spilled upon himself or herself. That's the basic scenario that's described throughout this paper.

This is obviously a serious problem, and one that needs to be addressed by every microwave oven manufacturer. It shouldn't be an enormous engineering task to prevent or make it extremely difficult for toddler to open the door of any microwave oven. AHAM is working with the UL 923 STP on ways to address this hazard, and in my discussion with Mr. Randall we considered whether there are any actions that IMPI can take to support this investigation. At the moment, there's much not much IMPI can do other than keep close contact with both AHAM and the UL to follow this situation.

I want to emphasize that this appears to be an appliance problem, i.e., that it is possible for a child to a toddler to open the microwave oven door and remove hot contents. But is not is a microwavable foods products or microwave packaging problem. True, it is possible for consumers to overheat microwavable foods, but in the cases described above, the authors are writing about an unsafe condition on all microwave ovens without child locks. It is my personal opinion that this sort of "child lock" should be mandatory on all microwave ovens. One way to assure that in the United States would be for UL to make it mandatory on all microwave ovens in order them for them to pass UL inspection.

Bob Schiffman
President, International Microwave Power Institute

Excerpted from the President’s Message, November/December 2106 issue of “The Wave,” the newsletter of the International Microwave Power Institute.

This is obviously a serious problem, and one that needs to be addressed by every microwave oven manufacturer.