What are the Main Food Safety Concerns Regarding Frozen Foods?

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.

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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.

 

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4 Replies to “What are the Main Food Safety Concerns Regarding Frozen Foods?”

  1. I never understood how once a food is frozen it could retain any nutrient value. Somehow the nutrients come back to life ?
    Same thing with microwaving, nuking kills nutrients.

    1. From the Nutrition Action Healthletter: Cold temperatures do not destroy nutrients. That’s why refrigerated and frozen foods retain their nutritional value. Many nutrients are not affected by normal cooking temperatures. For those that are, the extent of nutrient loss depends largely on high a temperature and for how long. Since microwaving exposes food to heat for only a brief time, nutrient losses are less with microwaving compared with, for example, boiling a food. The notion that “nuking kills nutrients” is just not true. It’s one of the many myths about microwaving that circulate on the Internet.

  2. Why do you use the words Junk Food? Please just use the word Junk. The stuff is Junk or it is Food. Let’s not use them together Thank you.

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