Don’t let those grill marks and browned breading on frozen foods mislead you. New research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows some consumers do not know how to safely cook frozen foods.
Frozen foods can be a timesaver in the kitchen, but unless cooked properly, they can put consumers at risk for foodborne illness, said Barbara Brown, Oklahoma State University Extension food specialist.
“Many families are cooking more meals at home, so food safety is definitely a priority. Some frozen foods, especially meat products, often feature what appears to be grill lines, browned breading or other signs that make the food look as if it already has been cooked, which can lead to confusion,” Brown said. “Many frozen foods available aren’t fully cooked or ready to eat.”
It is important for cooks to read product labels to understand how to properly prepare a food item and not rely on appearance. Phrases such as “cook and serve,” “ready to cook” or “oven ready” indicate the food must be cooked. Always use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of frozen meat and poultry products to determine if they are fully cooked.
Beef, pork, lamb and veal should be cooked to 145 degrees. Ground meats, including beef, pork, lamb and veal need to reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees. All poultry, including whole and ground, is safe to eat as long as the internal temperature is 165 degrees.
“Frozen foods are convenient for busy families because they can be prepared quickly, but food safety is the key issue. They must be treated the same as raw foods,” she said. “Frozen foods also are a great way to get your children started cooking, and teaching them about food safety in the kitchen is a skill they will use throughout their lives.”
Brown also offers these food safety tips:
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before preparing foods.
- Keep raw meats separated from other foods during preparation.
- Use a separate cutting board for raw meats.
- Use a food thermometer to ensure foods are cooked to the proper internal temperature.
- Rinse and scrub raw fruits and vegetables before peeling them.
“We’re getting into the time of year where people may be spending even more time in the kitchen to prepare for festive holiday meals,” Brown said. “Following food safety guidelines will help ensure your guests will be consuming foods that are safe.”
More food safety information is available on OSU Extension’s website.