When Preparing Convenience Foods, Cook It Safe!
By Diane Van, Food Safety Education Staff Deputy Director, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service
Our new “Cook It Safe!” campaign helps you prepare convenience foods safely. Whether you’re grabbing a quick snack or preparing a big meal, here are four important tips to follow:
1. Read and Follow Package Cooking Instructions
When you’re hungry and want something fast, it’s tempting to grab a convenience food item and zap it in the microwave without taking time to read the cooking instructions. But not following package cooking instructions can cause food to be undercooked. That can cause food poisoning, because harmful bacteria in the food may not be destroyed.
Most convenience foods are not ready-to-eat products and must be properly cooked first. Reading the product label and package directions tells you whether the product needs to be thoroughly cooked or simply reheated. Be sure to follow all package instructions for microwaving food, such as covering or stirring the food or allowing a “stand time” between cooking the food and eating. These steps ensure the food is cooked evenly. Skipping these key cooking directions may allow harmful bacteria to survive and lead to foodborne illness.
2. Know When to Use a Microwave or Conventional Oven
It’s important to use the appliance the manufacturer recommends on the food package instructions. The instructions may call for cooking in a conventional oven, microwave, convection oven, or toaster oven. Instructions are set for a specific type of appliance and may not be applicable to all ovens.
Some pre-prepared products may appear to be fully cooked but actually consist of raw, uncooked product. It may be tempting to cook these foods quickly in a microwave, but doing so may result in unsafe food. Some convenience foods are shaped irregularly and vary in thickness, creating opportunities for uneven cooking. Even microwaves equipped with a turntable can cook unevenly and leave cold spots in the product, where harmful bacteria can survive.
3. Know Your Microwave Wattage
If your microwave’s wattage is lower than the wattage recommended in the package cooking instructions, it will take longer than the instructions specify to cook the food to a safe internal temperature. The higher the wattage of a microwave oven, the faster it will cook food. If you don't know the wattage of your oven, try looking on the inside of the oven's door, on the serial number plate on the back of the oven, or in the owner's manual. You can also do a "Time-to-Boil" test to estimate the wattage.
4. Use a Food Thermometer!
To be sure food has reached a temperature high enough to kill any bacteria that may be present, use a food thermometer and test the food in several places. This applies when cooking in microwaves or any other heat source. See this page for a chart of safe cooking temperatures.
Watch our Cook it Safe! videos
Additional Resources on Safe Cooking
That's an important point about undercooking. Lots of people don't know the wattage of the microwave so undercook what they put in. I doubt many know the risk. Lisa Diet Reviews
We all need to take care when cooking! Excellent information!!! I send my clients here to educate themselves about th efood safety. Thanks agai! Nor