A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used an internet panel survey and found that more than one-half of respondents reported using an appliance other than an oven to cook frozen stuffed chicken products.

The study, titled “Appliances Used by Consumers to Prepare Frozen Stuffed Chicken Products,” is timely and significant as raw frozen stuffed chicken products remain a source of Salmonella outbreaks despite changes to packaging, which instructs consumers to cook these products in ovens and to avoid using microwaves.

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has taken specific aim at these types of products, moving to declare all strains of Salmonella an adulterant in breaded and stuffed raw chicken products in August of this year.

Sandra Eskin, deputy undersecretary for food safety for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), said one reason the FSIS is taking this action is because raw breaded and stuffed chicken is one of the most confusing products for consumers. Consumers are often confused because the raw products can look fully cooked. However, these products are only partially cooked to set the breading (often making them appear fully cooked). These products need to be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F (74 degrees C) to ensure that they are safe to eat.

Previous studies have found that some consumers infrequently read package instructions, including one report that found some consumers discarded packaging when the products were brought home and never saw cooking instructions.

The survey found that respondents with lower incomes and who live in mobile types of homes reported lower oven use and higher microwave use.

Barriers to using ovens, combined with the convenience of microwaves’ shorter cooking times, might encourage consumers to use microwaves. According to the study, microwaves require adjusting cooking times based on the microwave’s wattage. Consumers who do not know their microwave’s wattage, as was the case among approximately one-third of the survey’s respondents, might not be able to adjust cooking times and might therefore be less likely to prepare these products safely. 

Although ovens were the most commonly reported appliance used to cook frozen stuffed chicken products, 54 percent of respondents reported using other appliances instead of or in addition to ovens, including microwaves at 29 percent of consumers.

In addition, 8 percent of all respondents who reported using a microwave to prepare these products and knew the wattage had microwaves with a power level of equal to or less than 750 watts. Other studies suggest that lower wattage microwaves might be insufficient to fully cook these products.

Adding to the potential of food poisoning is that food thermometer usage can be low. One study found that even among persons who owned a food thermometer, only 38 percent typically used them to check the doneness of frozen chicken products.

The study’s findings suggest that relying on labeling and cooking instructions might not be sufficient to prevent illness. The researchers suggest that companies consider implementing interventions that rely less on labeling and consumer preparation practices to ensure safety.

The full study can be found here.

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