“Cook It Safe” when preparing convenience foods

It is important to follow package instructions in order to fully cook pre-prepared foods and prevent foodborne illness; the educational campaign “Cook It Safe” provides suggestions.

Convenience foods, either frozen or refrigerated, are popular in many homes because they are fast and convenient. When you use these foods, it is important to read the package instructions to make sure you “Cook It Safe” – a necessary step and an educational campaign geared towards preventing foodborne illnesses. Cooking safely means heating food to an internal temperature high enough to destroy harmful bacteria in accordance with recommendations from the Partnership for Food Safety Education.

Frozen convenience foods may appear ready-to-eat and simply in need of being reheated, but many contain raw products that must be fully cooked before eating. Reading the product’s label will tell you whether the product needs to be reheated or thoroughly cooked. The package may state, for example, that the product contains uncooked meat or poultry and instructions for further cooking would need to be followed.

If the package instructions for microwave cooking call for covering or stirring the food or allowing a “stand time,” do not ignore these steps, which contribute to even cooking. Covering food traps moisture and raises the temperature, while stirring prevents cold spots where bacteria can survive. A “stand time” is the time between removal from a heat source and consumption, when food continues to cook for a few minutes. Skipping these key parts of cooking instructions may allow bacteria to survive and could lead to foodborne illness.

Another key step in cooking pre-prepared foods is following the method recommended on the food package instructions, whether it calls for cooking in an oven, toaster oven or microwave.

Package cooking instructions are written for a specific type of appliance and may not be applicable to all ovens. Frozen, breaded chicken products and similar items may appear to be fully cooked but actually consist of raw, uncooked product, and it may be tempting to cook these foods quickly in a microwave, but doing so may result in an unsafe product. Additionally, some convenience foods are shaped irregularly and vary in thickness, creating opportunities for uneven cooking in a microwave. Even those microwaves equipped with a turntable can cook unevenly and leave cold spots of uncooked product where harmful bacteria can survive. After cooking in any type of appliance, always use a food thermometer to be sure the product has reached the recommended safe temperature to help prevent any risk of foodborne illness.

Following the instructions on the food package is the key step to cook it safely and to prevent the risk of bacteria and food borne illnesses.

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