Handling frozen food properly

Published 11:14 am Tuesday, March 7, 2017

March is National Frozen Food Month. While frozen foods are convenient, they still must be handled properly to prevent food-borne 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. However, 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? Do you have a food thermometer to make sure the food reaches a safe internal temperature?

These are important concerns which could make the difference between a pleasant meal or snack and illness.

Howard Seltzer with the FDA Center for Applied Nutrition has suggestions for you to remember.

Read and follow

cooking instructions

Most frozen food packages provide clear instructions for both microwave and conventional oven cooking. They include steps for microwaving, such as the following:

— 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

— 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 foods may not require the let-it-stand step.

Know which oven to use

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’s cooking instructions say they are only for a specific type of appliance, the instructions may not 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, in which case harmful bacteria can survive. Always use the type of appliance recommended on the label.

Know your microwave’s wattage

The microwave cooking instructions on the package will specify a time for cooking in a microwave of a specific wattage, usually 1,100 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.

Use a food thermometer

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 at home because they are fast and accurate.

The Clark County Health Department provides programs for the entire family, including WIC, HANDS, family planning, well child care/immunizations, and home health care. For more information on all of our services, call 744-4482 or visit  www.clarkhealthdept.org.