Many folks don’t know that improperly microwaved frozen foods can make you sick. The government has issued a new warning urging consumers to thoroughly cook frozen chicken dinners after 32 people in 12 states were sickened with salmonella poisoning. Doug Powell, scientific director of the International Food Safety Network based at Kansas State University, says using microwaves to reheat is good, but not so good for cooking. He says the problem is that microwaves heat unevenly, and can leave cold spots in the food that harbor dangerous bacteria, such as E. coli, salmonella or listeria. Thus microwaving anything that includes raw meat, whether it’s frozen or thawed, can cause problems. Michael Davidson, a University of Tennessee food microbiologist, observed: “I think most food-safety experts probably would have said it’s not a good idea to microwave anything that’s from a raw state.”
Many folks wrongly assume all frozen meals are precooked and only need to be warmed. It’s a misconception fostered in part by foods prepared to appear cooked, such as chicken that has been breaded or pre-browned. Even some meals designed to be microwaved can be unsafe if they are not heated thoroughly enough, or are cooked using directions meant for a microwave with different wattage.
The government doesn’t track microwave-related food-borne illnesses, but every year more than 325,000 people are hospitalized for food-related illnesses. Last fall, hundreds became ill when Banquet pot pies made by ConAgra Foods were linked to a salmonella outbreak and frozen pizzas made by General Mills were tied to an E. coli outbreak. Both products were recalled. Since then, food companies have revamped the cooking instructions on their frozen foods to make sure they are sufficient for killing off any dangerous bacteria. At least that’s what Leslie Sarasin, head of the American Frozen Food Institute trade group, told Associated Press.
Microwaves produce short radio waves that penetrate food about one inch and excite water, fat and sugar molecules to produce heat. Food safety experts say that method poses more risk than a stove or oven because it heats food unevenly. To be safe, consumers should use a thermometer to check the temperature of microwaved food in several places, especially if the product includes raw ingredients.
Consumers also need to become better acquainted with the technical specifications of their microwaves. The unit’s wattage ‘ how powerful it is ‘ influences how well it heats food, and cooking instructions are written for specific wattages. But microwaves lose power over time, and some smaller microwaves may not produce enough power to safely cook some products. Banquet pot pies, for example, now include a warning that the product shouldn’t be cooked in microwaves with less than 1,100 watts output.
Source: Associated Press
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