Safety warning - microwave wheat bags

4 August 2009

Firefighters are urging people who use microwave wheat bags to be extra careful. The warning is part of a national campaign following an inquest into the death of a woman whose overheated wheat bag set fire to her bedding.

Coroner David Hinchliffe said he had previously been unaware of the dangers, and called on fire and rescue services to raise public awareness.

Paul McShane from Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service’s community safety team said: “Wheat bags heated in microwave ovens are a well known way of helping bring relief to aching joints and muscles - but they must be used with care.

“A product that absorbs and stores heat in this way is a potential fire risk if not used properly. For this reason it is vital to follow manufacturers’ instructions to avoid possible injury.”

Doreen Ghiloni from Whinmoor in West Yorkshire died in her home in May 2008. West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service has conducted extensive research into overheated bags and is sharing its findings internationally following the inquest.

It suspects that considerably more of these fires actually happen but are successfully extinguished without brigade help.

Wheat bags bought in shops have manufacturers’ instructions which recommend maximum heating times. Home-made bags can pose a greater risk because the type of wheat may be unknown and there are no manufacturers’ instructions to follow.

If a bag is kept insulated after heating - for example, under bedclothes - it may ignite.

Paul offered the following safety tips for people who use wheat bags:

Do

  • Buy wheat bags with clear heating instructions from the manufacturer, and follow them.

  • Buy bags which include manufacturers’ contact details if you have a problem.

  • Only use as a heat pack for direct application to the body.

  • Ensure your microwave turntable is working properly.

  • Watch for signs of overuse, such as a smell of burning or charring.

  • Leave bags to cool in a safe area and on a noncombustible surface like a kitchen sink.

Don’t

  • Use a wheat bag as a bed-warmer.

  • Overheat the bag.

  • Reheat the bag until it has completely cooled – which may take up to two hours.

  • Leave the microwave unattended when heating.

  • Store the bag until it has cooled.

  • Use the bag if you see evidence of problems.