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Follow directions when cooking frozen food

Determine if the product is fully cooked, raw or partially cooked.

Buying and eating frozen food is a quick way to satisfy your hunger. However, recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks suggest that consumers must take the time to read and follow cooking directions on packages.

Manufacturers of convenience frozen foods research and test products for quality and safety. Cooking and safe food-handling instructions are provided to keep the product safe from your freezer to your plate. Instructions will vary depending on the food product and whether the food contains raw or partially cooked ingredients, or is ready to eat.

In addition, remember to follow these safe food-handling practices when cooking frozen food:

Read and follow cooking directions carefully. Determine if the product is fully cooked, raw or partially cooked. Labels may say “raw product,” “uncooked,” “ready to cook,” or “contains uncooked poultry.” Some frozen food products look like they are fully cooked because they are breaded or prebrowned.

Bake products with raw meat or poultry in an oven. Follow preheating and cooking directions closely.

Pay attention to microwave wattage. Directions are developed for certain wattage, and cooking times will vary depending on your microwave’s wattage. If you don’t know the wattage, use a food thermometer. Make sure the product has reached a safe minimum internal temperature, as indicated on the package instructions. Insert the thermometer so the entire sensing area (usually two to three inches) is measuring the thickest part of the food. Read the temperature as the needle gauge stops moving. This should take about 15 seconds. If the food has not reached its safe temperature, continue cooking. Wash the thermometer with soap and water and recheck the temperature.

When microwaving, leave about two inches between the food and the inside surface of the microwave to allow heat to circulate properly.

Cover food to produce moist heat which helps destroy harmful bacteria. It’s important to stir, turn or rotate the food halfway during the cooking process to get rid of any cold spots.

Follow instructions to let the food stand or rest before eating. This is a very important part of the microwaving process to allow the food to finish cooking.

– Suzanne Driessen is a food safety educator with University of Minnesota Extension

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