After a year of online learning, families are adapting to new routines and schedules as schools and students return to in-person learning. Frozen foods are popular for packing lunches, making after-school snacks and preparing quick dinners. In a recent USDA study (PDF, 4 MB), 76 percent of study participants said they would buy not-ready-to-eat frozen chicken products for their children to prepare at home.
I appreciate the convenience and ease of frozen foods,” stated Sandra Eskin (USDA’s Deputy Secretary for Food Safety). Your family can reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses by getting your children involved in food preparation. Have them instruct you on proper cooking from the package label or make a game of watching the food thermometer reach the safe internal temperature on the package instructions.”
Follow the below tips to prepare frozen foods safely all school year long. Engage the children in fun activities that will improve their comprehension of reading. Check the temperature of the food thermometer.
Check the Package
Not all frozen foods are fully cooked or ready-to-eat. When frozen foods have brown breading, grill marks, or other signs that indicate that they are cooked, it can be hard to determine if the food is not ready-to-eat. In the USDA study, 22 percent of the participants preparing frozen foods were not sure if the products were raw or fully cooked despite reading the product instructions, and among these participants, nearly half incorrectly believed it was fully cooked.
- Always check the product packaging to see if the food is fully cooked (and therefore ready-to-eat) or not-ready-to-eat. Frozen products can be marked with phrases like “Cook and serve,” “Ready to Cook” or “Oven Ready”. These phrases indicate that they must have reached safe internal temperatures to be safe to eat.
Wash Hands and Surfaces
Following proper handwashing steps before, during and after preparing frozen food reduces the risk of transferring harmful bacteria from your hands to food and other surfaces. It is important to complete all five steps to handwashing:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water, and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with soap. Use soap to lather your hands between your fingers, under your nails and on the backs.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel.
In the same study, 97 percent of participants did not attempt to wash their hands during the preparation of not-ready-to-eat frozen, breaded chicken products. Of those who tried, 95 percent failed to wash their hands properly with all five steps.
Use a Food Thermometer
Although there are cooking instructions on frozen food packages, the only way to know if the food has been thoroughly cooked to a safe internal temperature is to measure it with a food thermometer. Cook not-ready-to-eat frozen foods to the following temperatures:
- Beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts and chops): 145 F with a three-minute rest time
- Ground meats (beef, pork, lamb and veal): 160 F
- Poultry (whole or ground): 165 F
All ready-to-eat or fully cooked frozen foods should be thoroughly heated to 165 F.
Keep Out of the Danger Zone
After cooking or heating frozen foods, they need to be eaten or refrigerated promptly for safe storage. When foods are in the “Danger Zone” (40 degrees F – 140 degrees F)for too long, bacteria can reach dangerous levels that can cause illness.
- Store food in the refrigerator within two hours after cooking or heating (one hour if over 90 F).
- Leftovers that are handled properly may be safely refrigerated at 40 F up to four days. Use an appliance thermometer to make sure your refrigerator is below 40 F.
If you are packing frozen food for lunch or take-out, heat or cook the food thoroughly and then pack it with a cold source such as a gel pack, water bottle or juice to avoid the Danger Zone.
For back-to-school food safety questions, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 888-MPHotline (888-674-6854) or chat live at ask.usda.gov from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. EDT, Monday through Friday.
Access news releases and other information at USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS) website at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/newsroom.
Follow FSIS on Twitter at twitter.com/usdafoodsafety or in Spanish at: twitter.com/usdafoodsafe_es.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here. )