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Frozen Dinners–Can Mainers Become Ill?

Busy Maine families love the speed and ease of nuking a frozen meal in the microwave from time to time. It can cut down on the stress in an already hectic day to be able to zap a quick meal for yourself and your family. This may not be the best idea after all, as more and more people are getting sick because their foods are not being cooked properly in the microwave.

According to the International Food Safety Network at Kansas State University, microwaves are designed more for reheating foods, not cooking them. The government issued a new warning urging consumers to thoroughly cook frozen chicken dinners after 32 people in 12 states became sick with salmonella poisoning.

Part of the problem is that microwaves heat unevenly and can leave cold spots in the food that harbor dangerous bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella and listeria. The other part of the problem is that many people have misconceptions about frozen meals.

Many people wrongly assume all frozen meals are precooked and only need to be reheated. It is a mistaken belief promoted partially by foods that appear cooked already, such as chicken that has been breaded or pre-browned. Even some of the meals designed to be microwavable can be unsafe if they are not heated thoroughly enough or if they are cooked using directions meant for a microwave with different voltage.

After hundreds of thousands of bouts of food-borne illness that required hospitalization, many major food companies such as ConAgra Foods and Nestle Prepared Foods have revamped cooking instructions on many of their brands which include Stouffer’s, Lean Cuisine, Banquet and Healthy Choice.

The best bet for Maine families? Pay careful attention to cooking instructions and make sure that foods prepared in the microwave are heated through. And when it comes to cooking raw foods? Skip the microwave altogether and rely on the stove, oven or grill.

By Elizabeth Stoll, for Briggs & Wholey
Copyright 2008 Briggs & Wholey