Food Safety Education Month
As students, parents, and caregivers adjust to a physical return to classrooms this fall, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reminds families to follow food safety practices to prevent foodborne illness when it comes to preparing frozen foods.
After a year of virtual learning, households adjust to new schedules and routines as students and schools return to in-person learning. When it comes to packing lunches, making after-school snacks, or quick and convenient dinners between after-school activities, frozen foods are a popular option. In a recent USDA Study (PDF, 4 MB), 76 percent of study participants said they would buy non-ready-to-eat frozen chicken products for their children to prepare at home.
“I appreciate the convenience of frozen foods,” said Sandra Eskin, USDA Assistant Under Secretary for Food Safety. “Involving your children in the preparation of frozen foods can help reduce the risk of foodborne illness for the whole family. Have them walk you through how to cook properly from the package label or play a game watching the food thermometer reach the safe internal temperature stated on the package instructions.
Follow the tips below to prepare frozen foods safely throughout the school year. Engage children in a fun way while improving their reading comprehension skills. Have them check the food thermometer for the correct temperature.
Check the package
Not all frozen foods are fully cooked or ready to eat. It can be difficult to tell when food is not ready to eat when it has golden breadcrumbs, grill marks, or other signs that normally show a product has been cooked. In the USDA study, 22% of participants preparing frozen foods did not know whether the products were raw or fully cooked despite reading the product instructions, and of those participants, almost half mistakenly believed that 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 may be labeled with phrases such as “Cook and Serve”, “Ready to Cook” and “Ready to Oven” to indicate that they must be fully cooked at safe internal temperatures to be safe to consume.
Wash hands and surfaces
Following the proper hand washing steps before, during, and after preparing frozen foods reduces the risk of harmful bacteria being transferred from your hands to foods and other surfaces. It is important to follow the five steps of hand washing:
- Wet your hands with clean running water and apply soap.
- Mousse your hands by rubbing them with soap. Lather the back of your hands, between your fingers and under your fingernails.
- Scouring your hands for at least 20 seconds.
- Rinse your hands well under clean running water.
- To dry your hands with a clean towel.
In the same study, 97 percent of participants did not attempt to wash their hands while preparing non-ready-to-eat frozen breaded chicken products. Of those who tried, 95 percent failed to wash their hands properly with the five steps.
Using a food thermometer
Although there are cooking instructions on the packages of frozen food, the only way to know if the food has been properly cooked to a safe internal temperature is to measure it with a food thermometer. Cook frozen foods that are not ready to eat at 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 minced): 165 F
All ready-to-eat or fully cooked frozen foods should be carefully heated to 165 F.
Stay out of the danger zone
After cooking or heating frozen foods, they should be eaten or refrigerated promptly for safe storage. When the food is in the “Danger zone” (40 degrees F to 140 degrees F)for too long, bacteria can reach dangerous levels that can cause disease.
- Store foods in the refrigerator within two hours of cooking or heating (one hour if over 90 F).
- If you are packing frozen foods for lunch or to take out of the house, cook or heat the food completely, then pack it with a cold source (such as freezing gel, a water bottle, or juice) to stay out of the danger zone.
- Leftovers that are handled properly can be safely refrigerated at 40 F for up to four days. Use an appliance thermometer to make sure your refrigerator is below 40 F.
For back-to-school food safety questions, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 888-MPHotline (888-674-6854) or chat live on ask.usda.gov 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. EDT, Monday to Friday.
Access press releases and other information on the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) website at www.fsis.usda.gov/newsroom.
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