3 Ways to Make Frozen Food Safe and Delicious
By Shanthi Appelö, MS, RD–Health and Wellness Spokesperson, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
As grocery aisles are mostly restocked and social distancing guidelines remain in place, more Americans are preparing meals at home amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Frozen food options offer excellent benefits including eliminating waste, a lower price tag, and locked-in nutrients.
However, research shows that some consumers find it difficult or confusing to prepare frozen food safely. A recent United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) study found a surprising 61 percent of respondents who had experience with a foodborne illness did not make changes to how they handle food at home after getting sick.
Of note, more than half of respondents had someone living in their home at high risk for complications from a foodborne illness. To decrease the risk of foodborne illness in your home, follow along for some tips.
Don’t rely on appearance.
If you’re not certain whether a food is precooked when purchased frozen, you’re not alone. Browned breading and grill marks are typically telltale signs of a fully cooked or ready-to-eat entrée, but not in the frozen food world.
The USDA notes 22 percent of participants in their study had trouble identifying whether a product was raw, cooked, or partially cooked. Check whether frozen products are labeled “cook and serve,” “ready to cook,” and “oven-ready,” indicating they must be cooked and temperature checked.
Must-have tools and tips.
If you don’t use that thermometer buried deep in your kitchen drawer, dig it out now. Not only will it ensure you’re consuming safe food, but it can help maximize the tenderness, texture, and flavors of your food.
Cook your whole or ground poultry to 165o F, ground meats to 160o F, and beef, pork and lamb to 145o F. Remember to defrost meats in the fridge on the lowest shelf, so juices don’t drip on fresh foods.
Many people are aware not to refreeze cooked foods once defrosted to prevent bacterial growth, but a surprise to many is that frozen vegetables for salads such as corn and peas should be cooked.
The USDA does note that frozen fruit can be used in smoothies, but be on the lookout for recalls as they apply to frozen foods too. For fresh produce, a vegetable scrub brush helps remove more dirt and bacteria than your hands before freezing. Find more tips here.
Make it exciting.
Sauces and salsas are key to making a chicken breast delicious and pack in extra nutrients. Simply chop up mangos, tomatoes, red onion, garlic, and cilantro and combine with salt and pepper for a delicious tropical salsa. Other options include topping your chicken with a Greek yogurt-based spinach dip and tomatoes or pan-seared mushrooms and onions. Cook garlic and onions in olive oil over low-medium heat until fragrant, add mushrooms and sear at medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, then add a drizzle of white wine to the pan and allow the mushrooms soak it up.
About the Author
Shanthi Appelö, MS, RD
Health and Wellness Spokesperson, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
Shanthi Appelö is a registered dietitian and health and wellness spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. A native of Enköping, Sweden, she moved to Knoxville, Tennessee where she later earned a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition with a minor in Business Administration and holds a Master of Science in Public Health Nutrition from the University of Tennessee.
Passionate about the science of nutrition and behavior, Shanthi has experience working in clinical nutrition, public health, and teaching in the university setting. In her free time, she enjoys experimenting in the kitchen, exploring the outdoors, working on art, and spending time with family.
*Profile photo courtesy of Shanthi Appelö, MS, RD