By: On Behalf of the Cook it Safe Taskforce Date: 10/25/12
It’s that time of year again when the kids are back in school and it never seems like there are enough hours in the day. Many Americans reach for prepared convenience meals when they’re in a time crunch, but it’s important to remember that no matter how hungry you are, avoiding foodborne illness is worth the wait!
According to IFIC’s 2012 Food & Health Survey, nearly 6 out of 10 Americans feel the chances they will actually get foodborne illness or food poisoning from something they eat or drink are extremely low, yet about half of Americans are concerned enough about bacteria in food that it affects their food purchases. That’s why it’s important that consumers understand that they can safely cook pre-made convenience meals at home by following a few simple tips from the Cook It Safe! campaign.
- Always read and follow the cooking instructions on the package.Most convenience meals are not safe to eat straight from the container—for example, a pan of frozen lasagna (I’d like to see someone try to eat that frozen!). The instructions are different for packaged foods that are cold, frozen, chilled or need to be fully cooked before eaten. Some need to be cooked in their original packaging, and others may need to be put in a different container. It’s important to read and follow all the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure foods have reached a temperature high enough to kill potential bacteria.
- Know when to use a microwave or a conventional oven.Microwaves and conventional ovens are not interchangeable. Conventional ovens typically require longer cooking times, while microwaves are more likely to have hot spots that cause the food to heat unevenly, especially with irregularly-shaped foods of varying thicknesses.
- Know your microwave wattage before microwaving food.The higher the wattage, the faster your food will cook, so if your microwave’s wattage is lower than the wattage for the package cooking instructions, you will need to cook your food longer. The wattage can be found near the serial number on your microwave or in your owner’s manual. If you’re still unable to locate the wattage, call the microwave manufacturer.
- Always use a food thermometer to ensure a safe internal temperature.Whip out that thermometer—they’re not just for Food Network Stars! Different foods need to be heated to different internal temperatures to kill harmful bacteria. Undercooked foods are in the prime temperature range for growing harmful bacteria (called the “Danger Zone”). After you follow the cooking instructions on the package, observe the “stand time”. Stand time is the time after the food is removed from the heat source, but continues to cook. Then insert the thermometer in several places to make sure the food has reached a safe internal temperature.
Think you might be a victim of foodborne illness? Look for these symptoms: http://www.fda.gov/food/resourcesforyou/consumers/ucm103263.htm
For more information on how to safely enjoy convenient, microwavable foods, check out these resources:
Cook It Safe! website: http://fightbac.org/cookitsafe
Cook It Safe! brochure: http://fightbac.org/storage/documents/Cook_It_Safe/CookItSafeBrochure.pdf
Cook It Safe! videos: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLCAFCF55236BFFFAF&feature=view_all
2012 Food & Heath Survey: Consumer Attitudes Toward Food Safety, Nutrition, and Health: http://www.foodinsight.org/Resources/Detail.aspx?topic=2012_Food_Health_Survey_Consumer_Attitudes_toward_Food_Safety_Nutrition_and_Health
A Consumer’s Guide to Food Safety Risks (IFIC): http://www.foodinsight.org/Resources/Detail.aspx?topic=A_Consumer_s_Guide_to_Food_Safety_Risks