Do they put it on the boxes just in case they didn't really cook it through?


As a rule, frozen foods that are fully cooked do not have that requirement. If the label says "fully cooked", you can eat it still frozen if you want. Where have you seen "fully cooked" and "must be cooked before serving" on the same label?

Here is a typical example. The directions say "until warm" for esthetic reasons only. There is no need to reach 165F, which would be the USDA requirement for raw chicken.


EDIT: Wow, look at this, from the USDA


They're saying leftovers must be heated to 165F. There's overly conservative, then there is SOOO overly conservative as to strip them of credibility. I'm just flummoxed.

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    I just looked at a label for Lean Cuisine, and it does say cook to at least 160F, even though the ingredients say cooked chicken. That's extra odd, since the USDA recommendation for chicken is 165. – Jolenealaska Nov 8 '14 at 19:56
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    That's just ridiculous to me. That's like saying you can't eat leftovers out of the refrigerator. – Jolenealaska Nov 8 '14 at 19:59
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    @Jolenealaska I suspect it's just to get it hot enough to serve... – Cascabel Nov 8 '14 at 20:03
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    @Jefromi has a point. But regardless of that I would err on the side of safety. All frozen food should be safe when it leaves a production facility. However, there are many transports from one warehouse to another, distribution centers, etc. before it actually reaches the store. You would have to assume that everything was handled perfectly during each step. I know better and so does the the mfr. They will go the extra step to ensure that consumers do not become ill. – Cindy Nov 8 '14 at 20:12
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    I'm with you on this @Jolenealaska. The root of all bureaucracy is CYA or, that is, the fear of litigation. A government agency wouldn't dare set policy that falls anywhere below what it sees as a worst case scenario. And once that policy's in place, a manufacturer wouldn't dare fail to label its product accordingly. The example (disparity) you cite is a really good one. Same with expiration dates. They're almost never synonymous with an actual spoil date. Again, it's all about avoiding litigation. Common sense needs to win the day. The eye and nose are pretty much judge and jury. – Tom Raywood Nov 8 '14 at 21:58

The USDA says this about the label "Fully Cooked": FULLY COOKED or COOKED: Needs no further cooking because it is fully cooked at the establishment where it was produced and packaged. Product can be eaten right out of the package or reheated. Fully cooked is synonymous with cooked.

See USDA Ham and Food Safety

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    This does not answer the 'why' question. – user34961 Sep 25 '17 at 18:51

You can count on foods identified as "fully cooked" to be fully cooked. The heating requirements protect against foodborne illness and also insure that the flavor and consistency of the foods is restored to levels appropriate for most expectations. Depending on the recommended heating method, much of the food might appear to be piping hot while the center is frozen - that could be unsafe as well as unappetizing.

  • I'm a bit confused by this. If foods identified as "fully cooked" can be counted on as being cooked, then how come safety is still an issue? – user29160 Nov 8 '14 at 19:31
  • Even though initial cooking would have killed-off most of the harmful organisms you would have to worry about, the risk is reestablished when food is cooled after cooking. While there are certainly protocols in place at any food processing plant to make this transition very quickly, there is still an attached risk. Some foods pose more of a risk than others, but food safety standards would probably have companies recommend heating frozen cooked foods to at least a temperature of 165° F or hotter to remove all risk for the end user. – Stephen Eure Nov 8 '14 at 19:49
  • There are a lot of sites that address food safety issues, especially surrounding the cooling and reheating of foods. A very short summary can be found here: fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/… – Stephen Eure Nov 8 '14 at 19:53

This situation varies. If it is fully cooked out of a reputable retailers commercial freezer and you get hungry for it cold then you are almost always safe. On the other hand, if it is thawed from frozen food that has been moved from a distributor to a wholesaler followed by a third party retailer at the local convenience store then always heat it up all the way. The more handling and temperature change, the higher the risk. Read the ingredients and instructions. Fully Cooked is best.

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