Follow package instructions when cooking frozen foods
Recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks related to frozen convenience foods such as pot pies, meat pizzas and chicken entrees suggest that consumers must take the time to read and follow the cooking instructions on the package.
Frozen convenience food manufacturers spend time and money to research and test products for quality and safety. As a result, they provide cooking and safe food handling instructions to keep the product safe from freezer to plate. Instructions vary depending on the food product and whether the food contains raw or partially-cooked ingredients, or is ready-to-eat.
Due to Salmonella foodborne illness outbreaks linked to frozen chicken entrees, the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture issued a consumer advisory advising against cooking frozen products with raw poultry in the microwave: http://www.health.state.mn.us/news/pressrel/2010/salmonella061810.html.
When cooking frozen convenience foods, follow safe food handling practices:
- Read and follow cooking instructions carefully.
- Determine if the product is fully-cooked, raw or partially-cooked. Labels may indicate "raw product," "uncooked," "ready to cook," or "contains uncooked poultry." Some frozen food products look like they are fully cooked because they are breaded or pre-browned.
- Products with raw meat or poultry must be cooked in an oven. Follow preheating and cooking instructions closely.
- Pay attention to microwave wattage. Instructions are developed for certain wattage, and cooking times will vary depending on your microwave's wattage.
- What if you don't know your microwave's wattage? The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service advises you to use a food thermometer. Make sure the product reaches a safe minimum internal temperature, as indicated on the package instructions.
If the product contains raw meat or poultry, cook it in the oven instead of the microwave.
- Insert the thermometer so the entire sensing area (usually 2 to 3 inches) is measuring the thickest area of the food. Read the temperature when the gauge needle stops moving which usually takes about 15 seconds.
- If the food has not reached a safe internal temperature, continue cooking. Wash the thermometer with soap and water and recheck the temperature.
- When microwaving, leave about 2 inches between the food and the inside surface of the microwave to allow heat to circulate properly. Cover food to produce moist heat which helps destroy harmful bacteria. It's important to stir, turn or rotate the food half-way during the cooking process to get rid of any cold spots.
- When microwaving frozen convenience foods, carefully follow instructions to let the food stand or rest 2 minutes before eating. This is a very important step of microwave cooking because it allows the food to finish cooking.
- Dr. Kirk Smith, Supervisor of the Foodborne, Vectorborne and Zoonotic Disease Unit at the Minnesota Department of Health.
Revised 2011 by Carol Ann Burtness