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Secrets to safely cooking frozen foods

After stocking up during the pandemic, it's time to start cooking some of that frozen food.

TAMPA, Fla. — When the pandemic started, many of us hit the grocery stores stocking up on frozen foods. These types of foods are always good to have on hand, but when you're ready to cook or thaw, you may be making some big food safety mistakes that could make you or your family sick.

The USDA recently did a study to find out if people were cooking frozen food properly. Nearly a quarter had no idea if the food was fully cooked, partially cooked or raw. 

It's hard to tell just by looking at the box, some look fully cooked, but they're not. That's why it's so important to read the directions to make sure you're food is cooked properly.

Also, if you thaw out frozen meat to use for dinner and then decide not to cook it, can you refreeze it? 

USDA Food safety expert Meredith Carothers has the answer.  

"If you're thawing it in the refrigerator, it is perfectly safe to go ahead and re-freeze that product, even if it's completely thawed," Carothers said. "But if you use one of the rapid thawing methods like in the microwave, or in cold water, you want to go ahead and fully cook that product first before you refreeze it. That helps eliminate any of the food borne bacteria risk that can get you and your family sick."

There are three simple rules when cooking frozen foods:

  1. Read the instructions - know whether it's fully or partially cooked or raw.
  2. Wash your hands before any food preparation.
  3. Use a food thermometer - the instructions should tell you what is a safe internal temperature.

Finally, Carothers says foods can stay safely frozen indefinitely. They shouldn't expire in the freezer, however the quality will change as foods lose moisture and likely some flavor. 

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