Put a Freeze on Foodborne Illness

— Written By and last updated by

Cooking

As more and more people prepare meals at home, it’s important to follow food safety guidelines when shopping, preparing, and storing food. An estimated 48 million people suffer from foodborne illness every year, according to the CDC. While freezing food can slow the growth of harmful bacteria, it is not enough to completely protect against foodborne illness.

In addition to ensuring your freezer is set to a frigid 0°F, the USDA recommends these five tips to keep your frozen foods safe:

Wash Your Hands!

Handwashing is one of the most important methods to prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria. You should wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap, paying attention to the backs of your hands, fingernails, and in between your fingers.

Treat Frozen Foods Like Raw Foods

Check the package label for phrases such as “Cook and Serve,” “Ready to Cook,” and “Oven Ready.” Cook all frozen foods to the appropriate internal temperature.

Use a Food Thermometer

The ONLY way to ensure foods are cooked to the correct internal temperature is to use a properly calibrated food thermometer. For meat, poultry, and seafood that was frozen raw, be sure to cook to the corresponding temperature. Frozen foods that are labeled   “Fully Cooked” or “Pre-Cooked,” such as frozen dinners, should be treated as leftovers and heated to 165°F.

Check out the FoodSafety.gov Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures Chart for the appropriate cooking temperature for your frozen food.

Limit Cross-Contamination

Because freezing does not kill harmful bacteria, there is still a risk of cross-contamination, which is the transfer of harmful bacteria from one food or surface to another. Wash your hands and sanitize your counter tops and surfaces after handling frozen foods.

Frozen produce being used for chilled dishes, like salads, should still be cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F. You can prepare these items ahead of time so they have time to chill in the refrigerator before being added to your dish.

Stay Up-to-Date on Food Recalls

Check your freezer periodically for recalled foods and discard or return to the store of purchase when possible. Visit the Food Safety website for current recall information.

The full USDA News Release, “Preparing Frozen Food,” can be found on the Food Safety and Inspection Service website.