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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Avoid Foodborne Illness When Preparing Convenience Foods

Avoid Foodborne Illness When Preparing Convenience Foods

     Our freezers are often stocked with convenience foods such as microwavable pizzas or frozen dinners. They’re quick and easy to use, but when convenience foods are not prepared properly, they can also make you ill.
     Short preparation times are one of the main advantages of convenience foods; however, when products are not cooked long enough or are prepared incorrectly, harmful bacteria may survive, potentially causing food poisoning.
     Many frozen foods contain raw ingredients that must be fully cooked before eating. And even if the items were fully cooked during manufacture, careful reheating is necessary to destroy any contaminants which may have entered along the way.
     Several years ago, improperly reheated Banquet pot pies were linked to 401 cases of salmonellosis across the United States. All pot pies linked to illness were heated in the microwave oven. Ingham offers some tips for consumers to keep in mind when convenience foods are on the menu.
1. Read and follow the package cooking instructions. If microwaving directions call for a “stand time” between cooking and eating, be sure to follow these and any other instructions or the food may be unevenly cooked or cold in spots.
2. Know when to use a microwave or a conventional oven. Package instructions are developed for a specific appliance and may call for cooking in a conventional oven, microwave, convection or toaster oven. You risk consuming food that is unevenly cooked and possibly unsafe if you prepare it in the wrong type of oven.
3. Know your microwave’s wattage. If your wattage is lower than that recommended in the package cooking instructions, it will take longer than the instructions state to cook food to a safe internal temperature. The higher the wattage, the faster the food will cook. If you don’t know your microwave’s wattage, look on the inside of the door, on the serial number plate on the back, or in the owner’s manual.
4. Use a food thermometer. To be sure that food has reached a high enough temperature to kill bacteria, use a food thermometer and test the food in several places. Here are some safe internal temperatures:
--Whole cuts of fresh beef, pork, veal and lamb: 145º F followed by a 3-minute stand time.
--Fish: 145º F
--Ground beef, pork, veal and lamb: 160º F
--Eggs and egg dishes: 160º F
--All poultry, ground or whole: 165º F
--Leftovers and casseroles: 165º F
--Hot dogs and reheated deli meats: 165º F or steaming hot
To learn more about preparing convenience foods safely, visit the food Safety and Health website at

Source: Barbara Ingham, UW-Extension Food Safety Specialist and UW-Madison Professor of Food Science

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