Microwaves, more microwaves, and more microwaves

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Old microwave ovens don't die. They don't even fade away.

One survey indicates fewer than 12 percent are thrown away when their owners upgrade to a new model.

In another study, 4 percent of the 300 owners questioned in 20 widely scattered American cities said they owned two microwave ovens each, and 1 percent owned three. The survey was done by Good Housekeeping Institute.

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About 20 percent of first ovens continue to be used in the owners' homes or away from home or are stored for future use. Forty-five percent are given to friends or relatives, and 23.5 percent are sold.

The industry estimates that two-thirds of the 88.8 million households in the United States have at least one microwave oven.

Microwave ownership (almost 60 percent) passed dishwasher ownership (50 percent) last year for the first time, according to a report by MRCA Information Services.

Elaine Howard, editor of the report, says more than 55 million servings are microwaved daily, everything from beverages to baby food, from popcorn to potatoes. In fact, potatoes are fourth among the top seven microwaved foods in terms of the number of average daily servings in the US.

Coffee remains number one, followed by vegetables, and hot dishes/casseroles, Ms. Howard says.

Microwave ovens now meet about a quarter of all food and beverage warming needs, she adds.

The MRCA study showed young and childless households make up the largest group of microwave owners, at 76 percent, followed closely by households with teenagers (73 percent) and families with working parents (72 percent).

Ms. Howard says even light users microwave a variety of foods, including pizza, frozen dinners and entrees, hot dogs, baked potatoes, and red meat. Heavy users are well above average in microwaving foods that tend to be served more than once daily. Baby food and formula, coffee, tea, and hot cereals are of number of examples in this category.

AHAM research shows that the average US household has at least six major appliances. A microwave oven is not only among those six, but it also represents the fastest growing of all appliance categories.

Research by the Campbell Microwave Institute indicates that ownership rose 10 percent in the past year alone, and predicts eight out of 10 households will have at least one microwave oven by the year 2000. CMI researchers also expect 50 percent of all cooking to be done by microwave by 1990.

Quite a track record for a cooking appliance that was introduced for home use in the United States in 1955, and was in only 50 percent of all homes as recently as 1985!

The first home microwave ovens were scaled down models of commercial ones used in restaurants, hospitals, and other institutions, and were designed as built-ins.

The introduction in 1967 of the first countertop models accelerated ownership, and compacts and sub-compacts (as small as .3 cubic feet capacity) are largely responsible for the second- and third-oven trend, research shows.

The latest down-sized units - whose exterior dimensions are comparable to those of a large toaster oven - combine toasting, browning, and conventional baking with microwaving.

Their prices range upwards from $200 at this writing, but are expected to drop as distribution and competition increase.

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