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By: Ariel Garsow
Looking at the back of a package of frozen food, there can be detailed instructions. Are these instructions important to follow for food safety?
What labels mean
Frozen foods are separated into categories based on how they need to be cooked for food safety. Some are ready to eat, like yummy Dino Buddies (although many would prefer cooked Dino Buddies), while others, like Lean Cuisine Alfredo Pasta with Chicken & Broccoli need to be cooked before they are ready to be consumed. You can tell if an item is ready to be consumed by looking at the front of the package for a label that says fully cooked (circled in red in the photo below).
On the other hand, the Lean Cuisine Alfredo Pasta with Chicken & Broccoli needs to be cooked thoroughly before it is consumed (circled in red in the photo below).
Reason for the directions
The cooking instructions on a package of frozen food are created to optimize safety and quality for the consumer in order to ensure that food is safe and the ideal texture and taste of the food is achieved. If you are anything like me, the part that I want to skip the most in the directions on the back of a package of frozen food is the stir and put the item back in the microwave.
There is a reason for this step. Heating is not even in a microwave. Many microwaves have turn tables to mitigate these temperature differences and allow for more even heating of foods. The picture below shows the result of a simulation of the temperature differences throughout a microwave with a potato in it (COMSOL, 2017). The red spots show hotter areas while the blue spots demonstrate colder areas in the microwave.
This is why Lean Cuisine Alfredo Pasta with Chicken & Broccoli in their directions states that after stirring, the product needs to be “cook[ed] again for 1:30 minutes on high.”
One note on stirring: the product is not completely cooked after the first cook step. For reduction of risk of foodborne illness, the utensil being used to stir should be washed before it is used again.
There is a higher risk of foodborne illness if you consume foods that are not prepared according to the manufacturer’s instructions. In March 2016, an outbreak of listeriosis was found to be caused by individuals that ate frozen sweet corn and green peas. Listeria monocytogenes can cause serious health effects such as death and miscarriage in vulnerable populations such as pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems.
I hope the next time you pull out your frozen meal from the microwave, you understand the importance of waiting for the food to be fully cooked to reduce your risk of foodborne illness.
COMSOL. (2017). The Microwave Heating Principle. Multiphysics Cyclopedia. https://www.comsol.com/multiphysics/microwave-heating
Lean Cuisine. (n.d.). Alfredo Pasta with Chicken & Broccoli. https://www.goodnes.com/lean-cuisine/products/alfredo-pasta-chicken-broccoli/
Yummy Dino Buddies. (2018). Gluten Free Dinosaur Nuggets. https://www.yummydinobuddies.com/products
Graduate Research Associate