USDA study finds large amounts of consumers don’t properly prepare frozen food
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 128,000 Americans are hospitalized annually for foodborne illnesses, resulting in nearly 3,000 deaths.
Therefore, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety Inspection Service researchers conducted a multi-year, mixed-method study to evaluate various consumer food handling behaviors.
In a press release dated Sept. 23, USDA noted this research has revealed many consumers may not know how to safely cook frozen foods, which can put families at risk of getting foodborne illness in their own homes.
USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Mindy Brashears noted more people are preparing meals at home due to the worldwide pandemic, meaning the practice of food safety in home kitchens is more important than ever.
Uncooked frozen products
Brashears reminded consumers not all frozen foods are fully cooked and ready to eat, even if they have browned breading, grill marks or other signs indicating a product has been cooked.
“In our study, 22 percent of participants said a not-ready-to-eat frozen chicken entrée was either cooked, partially cooked or they weren’t sure if the product was raw or not,” stated Brashears.
She also noted it is even more important for consumers to understand if a frozen product is raw or ready to eat if they have children.
“Frozen foods are convenient for busy families because of how quickly they can be prepared. Frozen food products are also a great option because children can easily prepare them on their own,” Brashears said. “It is especially important for children to know how to practice necessary food safety steps needed to prepare frozen meals to avoid foodborne illness.”
“Although some frozen products may look cooked, it is important to follow the same food safety guidelines as we would if we were cooking a fresh, raw product,” she continued. “Consumers should wash their hands before food preparation and after handling raw frozen products and use a food thermometer to make sure frozen meals reach a safe internal temperature.”
In their news release, USDA noted 61 percent of national survey respondents who had experience with foodborne illness reported they did not make changes to how they handled food at home after being sick.
“This is concerning when we consider more than half of survey respondents reported someone in their home was considered at risk for foodborne illness,” Brashears said. “These individuals – children, older adults, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems – are unable to fight infection as effectively as others, so they can be susceptible to longer illness, hospitalization and even death from foodborne illness.”
Food safety recommendations
In light of their survey responses, USDA then offered a list of recommendations for safely handling frozen food products.
First, the department noted inadequate hand washing is a major contributing factor to many illnesses, especially foodborne illnesses. Therefore, it is important for consumers to properly wash their hands before, during and after preparing frozen foods.
USDA explained in their study, 97 percent of participants did not attempt to wash their hands during meal preparation to prevent cross contamination, and of those who did try, 95 percent failed to wash their hands properly.
“Although frozen products may appear to be pre-cooked or browned, they should be handled and prepared similarly to raw products and must be cooked,” stated USDA. “Frozen products may be labeled with phrases such as ‘Cook and Serve,’ ‘Ready to Cook’ and ‘Oven Ready’ to indicate they must be cooked.”
USDA’s third recommendation is to always use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of frozen meat products. The department noted beef, pork, lamb and veal should be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit, ground meats should be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit and poultry should be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
According to USDA, frozen and raw produce may also carry germs causing foodborne illnesses. Therefore, it is important to handle these food items with care as well.
“When preparing frozen corn for a salad in our study, almost all participants failed to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to check that it reached a safe internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit,” stated USDA. “A food thermometer is the only safe way to know if it reaches a safe temperature.”
“Even when preparing a cold salad, frozen products must first be cooked,” USDA continued.
When handling fresh produce, the department suggested consumers follow recommendations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which noted fresh produce should be rinsed and scrubbed with a vegetable brush.
USDA’s final recommendation for preparing frozen food products is to make sure items in the freezer have not been recalled. Recall information can be found at FoodSafety.gov.
Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.