Cooking breaded frozen chicken products in the air fryer, microwave or toaster oven won’t protect consumers against foodborne illnesses like Salmonella, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned.
“Frozen stuffed chicken products remain a source of Salmonella outbreaks despite changes to packaging instructing consumers to cook these products in ovens and to avoid using microwaves,” the agency wrote on December 2, 2022.
In a survey of 4,000 U.S. consumers, more than half reported that they used an appliance other than an oven to cook frozen stuffed chicken products.
Air fryers and other cooking appliances exploded in popularity during the COVID-19 global pandemic. Even though many of these appliances are designed to be user-friendly, they aren’t fool proof and there can be confusion over what kind of meals work best.
Frozen breaded and stuffed raw chicken products, such as chicken cordon bleu, appear cooked, but contain raw poultry, and have been associated with up to 14 outbreaks and approximately 200 illnesses since 1998. Previous efforts to improve the clarity of product labels have not helped reduce the incidence of foodborne illness.
“Efforts to prevent Salmonella infections linked to frozen stuffed chicken products have relied on manufacturers to develop validated cooking instructions and labeling to alert the consumer to which appliances are recommended to cook them (i.e., ovens),” the CDC said.
“Companies could consider implementing additional interventions that rely less on labeling and consumer preparation practices and instead control or reduce levels of Salmonella in these products, such as selling them fully cooked, or monitoring and testing Salmonella levels, to ensure safety.”
Salmonella in poultry
Salmonella in poultry is under intense scrutiny right now. In August, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) classified Salmonella as an adulterant in certain types of breaded and stuffed raw chicken products. This was followed by the unveiling of a proposed framework to improve Salmonella control in poultry products in October 2022.
If implemented, the new regulations would require poultry companies to test incoming flocks for Salmonella before entering the processing plant, enhance its establishment process control monitoring and FSIS Verification and develop an enforceable final product standard.
“I believe the FSIS is looking for the industry to adopt live prerequisite programs and plant programs. It is likely that this dual intervention idea is going to contribute to a producer’s status in the industry. But, if a company only does one of these, they will be on a secondary, less prestigious level. Some companies may not adopt anything, and they would be on the lowest level,” he added.
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