The frozen food aisles of a supermarket offer many nutritious choices (frozen produce among them) and a wide variety of gut-busting junk foods (full-fat ice cream “novelties,” for example). From a safety perspective, the most important issue is whether a frozen food is ready-to-eat or just looks that way.
Have you ever purchased a frozen meal that looks picture-perfect on the package, but not at all appetizing once you unwrap it? A package that depicts beautifully browned chicken and crispy roasted potatoes may reveal, upon opening, a lump of pale, icy poultry and a side of wan, undercooked taters. That’s marketing for you—and the food can also be a real safety risk if you aren’t careful. Even worse would be a piece of chicken that looks brown and properly cooked even out of the box, but is actually only partially cooked—and thus raw and unsafe—on the inside. If you are in the market for frozen meals, you need to read labels and cooking instructions carefully to make sure that you finish whatever cooking was started in the factory before you eat. Look for terms like “ready-to-eat” (which means it’s fully cooked) versus “ready-to-cook” or “must be cooked thoroughly” (which means it’s not already cooked—even if it looks that way on the box).
From a nutrition perspective, you should walk gingerly around the ice cream and frozen novelties, chock-full as most of them are of saturated fat, sugar, and questionable additives. But if you want to enjoy the occasional pint, especially of lower-fat products, the safety advice is the same: as long as they’re made from pasteurized milk, the foods should be safe. There have been occasional outbreaks linked to ice cream, but safety problems with ice cream generally arise when people make it at home with unpasteurized (raw) milk and eggs. Bottom line: frozen dairy treats made from pasteurized milk are safe.
One reassuring fact about frozen produce is that it provides about the same (or possibly even more) nutritional wallop as fresh. It’s a great choice when your favorite fruits and veggies are out of season (though fresh foods usually taste better than frozen).
Shopping Tip: Don’t buy frozen food if the package is open, torn, or crushed on the edges. Look for frost or ice crystals on the box or, if the package is transparent, on the food inside. That could mean that the food in the package has either been stored for a long time or thawed and refrozen. Choose a package without ice crystals for both quality and safety reasons.
Other relevant links:
- Follow these food safety tips to keep your family healthy. See: Food Safety Tips for Packing and Unpacking Your Food
- Use these tips to stay safe with packaged foods. See: Follow These Simple Tips Regarding Packaged Foods
- How to clean and reorganize your refrigerator. See: Read These Important Food Safety Tips for Cleaning Your Refrigerator