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A Microwave oven is a hugely important piece of cooking equipment for many pubs, and for those expanding into food sales for the first time...

A Microwave oven is a hugely important piece of cooking equipment for many pubs, and for those expanding into food sales for the first time post-smoking ban, a microwave will be one of the must-have items.

There is a minority view among independent pub owners that all microwave ovens are the same, the only differences between commercial ovens and domestic ovens being the power and the price.

This is not the case, and no managed pub operation would contemplate installing a domestic microwave in a commercial kitchen. There are clear cooking, construction and food safety differences between the two types of microwave oven.

Domestic microwave ovens are often relatively low power, which means they will take far longer to reheat, defrost or cook food than a commercial oven.

While domestic ovens commonly have a power rating from 600 watts to 900 watts, commercial microwave ovens can be up to 2,000 watts - the watt is the unit of measurement for the heating power of a microwave oven.

The device that produces the energy waves which heat food in a microwave oven is called a magnetron. Domestic microwave ovens usually have just a single magnetron, while commercial microwave ovens usually have two, both built to a higher specification. This makes them faster, more efficient and longer-lasting.

A commercial-build microwave oven is built to withstand hard use every day, while a domestic oven is designed to be used just a couple of times a day. This means heavy use of a domestic microwave oven can lead to a gradual lowering of power, with the associated food safety risks.

Microwave energy needs to be evenly spread around the oven cavity to ensure that all parts of the food inside are safely heated. Where chilled or frozen food is not thoroughly heated to the recommended core temperature, harmful bacteria within the food is unlikely to be killed, risking food poisoning.

Many domestic microwave ovens use simple turntables to try to distribute the microwave heat, while commercial microwave ovens have sophisticated heat mixing systems in the oven cavity.

The casing of most domestic microwave ovens is painted mild steel, which will chip, corrode and cause food safety hazards. Most professional microwaves have casings made from hard-wearing stainless steel, which is easy to keep clean and will not corrode.Commercial microwave ovens are also likely to have far more sophisticated cooking programmes, often with push-button pre-sets, so kitchen staff can reheat food properly and easily every time.

When microwave ovens get much more versatile is when they become a combination microwave oven. The combination is the addition of convection hot air and possibly a grill. This transforms a simple reheating cabinet into a multi-function cooking oven. Jacket potatoes can be softened then crisped, pastry dishes can be reheated and crisped - in fact, almost all of the functions of a standard oven can be performed in the combination microwave oven.

The main limitation is that microwave ovens are really for single items of food, while a convection oven or one under a cooking range will cook large quantities at the same time.CESA, the Catering Equipment Suppliers Association, has information on buying and using all kinds of kitchen equipment. Learn more and find a supplier by visiting www.cesa.org.uk.

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