Handling Frozen Food – Cook it Safe
March is National Frozen Food Month, a good time to talk about the fact that while frozen foods are convenient, they still must be handled properly to prevent foodborne illness.
When you’re hungry and want to eat something fast, it’s easy to grab a frozen meal or snack and zap it in the microwave. But did you look at the cooking instructions? Did you notice whether they were for the wattage of the microwave you’re using? Do you know the wattage of the microwave you’re using? Do you have a food thermometer to make sure the food reached a safe internal temperature? These are important concerns, which could make the difference between a pleasant meal or snack and illness!
Here are some things to remember:
Read and Follow Package Cooking Instructions.
Most frozen food packages provide clear instructions for both microwave and conventional oven cooking. They include steps for microwaving, like:
- Venting by slitting or turning back a corner of the film,
- Cooking for so many minutes at high or a lower power,
- Possibly pulling the film back and stirring,
- Perhaps cooking for a few more minutes, and
- Letting the food stand in the microwave for 1 or 2 minutes because, the way microwaves work, that’s necessary to complete the cooking. Some steamer-type frozen foods may not require the let-it-stand step.
Know When to Use a Microwave or Conventional Oven.
Sometimes proper cooking requires the use of a conventional oven, not a microwave. The instructions may call for cooking in a conventional oven, convection oven, or toaster oven. If the package cooking instructions say they are only for a specific type of appliance, the instructions may not be apply to all ovens.
Also, some frozen foods are shaped irregularly or are thicker in some areas, creating opportunities for cold spots or uneven cooking in a microwave oven, in which case harmful bacteria can survive. Always use the type of appliance recommended on the label.
Know Your Microwave Wattage Before Microwaving Food
The microwave cooking instructions on the package will specify a time for cooking in a microwave of a specific wattage, usually 1100 watts. Some packages will also specify a cooking time for 700 watt microwaves. If your microwave’s wattage is lower than the wattage stated in the instructions, it will take longer than the instructions say to cook the food to a safe internal temperature. The higher the wattage of a microwave oven, the faster it will cook.
If you don’t know the wattage of your microwave, it may be stated on the inside of the door, on the serial number plate on the back of the oven, or in the owner’s manual.
Always Use a Food Thermometer to Make Sure the Food is Hot Enough
After the microwave or conventional oven cooking time is completed and the food has been allowed to stand for the time specified in the cooking instructions, use a food thermometer to test the food in several places to make sure it has reached a safe internal temperature. You can’t tell if your food is properly cooked simply by its color and texture alone. Digital thermometers work best because they are fast and accurate.