Is that food RTE?
thoroughness of cooking instructions on frozen breaded chicken products and frozen microwavable entrees
Keywords:RTE, Cooking instructions, Frozen breaded chicken, Frozen microwavable entrees, Foodborne illness, Food safety, Public health, Thoroughness
Background: Rates of foodborne illness linked to consumers misinterpreting, or lack of proper cooking instructions on frozen food products continue to rise. With many recalls and outbreaks in the recent years surrounding frozen breaded chicken (FBC) products due to consumers not adequately cooking products and in turn becoming ill. However, it is not just frozen breaded chicken to blame, frozen microwavable entrees have also contributed to this problem. Therefore, the purpose of this project was to determine what was actually being displayed on the packaging of these frozen foods. Identifying whether or not frozen food products have clear, specific and consistent cooking instructions for the consumers is critical in identifying the risk of cooking and eating these foods. Methods: Secondary data was obtained from the British Columbia Centers for Disease Control (BCCDC) of cooking instructions on FBC packaging, and primary data was collected through visiting grocery stores in the Metro Vancouver area by surveying cooking instructions on frozen microwavable entrees packaging. Four categories of data were assessed, 2008 and 2018 raw FBC products, 2018 cooked FBC, and 2019 frozen microwavable entrees. Parameters such as inclusion of internal cooking temperature, thermometer usage, microwave instructions, and additional food safety handling was gathered. Chi-square tests were used to analyze the results with the statistical software NCSS12. Results: Of all categories surveyed 87.1% (n=122) said to cook the product to a minimum of 74°C, and 12.9% (n=18) did not state anything. 2018 raw FBC always stated an internal cooking temperature (100%), whereas 58% of the 2008 raw FBC stated an internal temperature and 89% of both the 2019 frozen entrees and 2018 cooked FBC did. Out of all 140 products surveyed across categories only 8% stated to use a thermometer when cooking to ensure food has reached proper internal temperature. The frequency of categories to display food safety was as follows, the 2018 raw FBC (82%) and the 2008 raw FBC (79%), followed by the 2019 frozen entrees (42%) and the 2018 cooked FBC (21%). For the microwave instructions the frozen entrees almost always stated this (81%), whereas the 2008 and 2018 raw FBC both never stated to use a microwave (0%). There was a significant association between products and the inclusion of the statement of internal cooking temperature and thermometer usage. This was based on the food product category itself, frozen breaded chicken or frozen entrees, or based on manufacturer of the product. Conclusions: It was evident that the major gap lies in the consistency of instructions. Almost every manufacturer had their cooking instructions presented differently, which could in turn confuse the consumer. Instructions also rarely stated to use a thermometer to check the internal temperature, although almost always stated a specific temperature to cook to. A small portion of manufactures are diligent about displaying all necessary information to the consumer such as, Kraft, Conagra foods, and Olymel which adequately met all parameters assessed. In order to fix the gaps of inconsistency of instructions this information can be used as educational tools by the BCCDC to inform customers on what to look for in cooking instructions of frozen
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