The frozen food industry has seen significant innovation and growth over the last number of years. We have come a long way since the original tv tray meals and bag of peas sold in one solid green mass. Innovative food processing and packaging processes have enabled processors to enter the frozen food market at a rapid rate in diverse industries from frozen produce, to meats and meals. Even processors who cater to health conscious consumers and those with dietary restrictions are now able to provide alternatives to their customers from the frozen food isle of just about every grocery store.Consumers today are turning to the frozen food isle not only for time-saving meals like pizza and frozen pasta, but they're also choosing individually quick frozen products to enhance healthy meals and snacks. Health conscious consumers often reach for frozen fruits and vegetables to create their smoothies, or a Pinterest recipe might call for adding frozen vegetables directly into a recipe. In these scenarios consumers are forgoing the cooking instructions on the package for their convenience. Ready-to-cook vegetables were never intended to be used in their frozen state. But consumers today are changing the way frozen foods are consumed, assuming they are ready-to-eat. This change in consumer habits has prompted the industry to respond by adjusting everything from their processing equipment to packaging labels in an effort to prevent the public from becoming a victim of foodborne illness.
When it comes to determining what foods are ready-to-cook and what is ready-to-eat, what's the difference?
Ready-to-eat foods are just that, ready to eat without preparation, heating or cooking. Think deli meats, cheese, prepared sandwiches or salads. Ready-to-cook food are foods prepared with the expectation they will be heated/cooked to a specific internal core temperature by either microwave, oven, stovetop, etc., think frozen pizza, most frozen vegetables, frozen microwaveable meals, or ready to bake cookie dough. These temperatures and cooking instructions are labeled on the product packaging for consumer convenience, yet sometimes ignored.
When consumers are eating ready-to-cook foods as if they were read-to-eat, they're skipping an important step in food safety which is intended to kill bacteria. Consumers often assume that because a product has been frozen all present microbes, and bacteria would be killed off. The truth is, the freezing process deactivates these microbes, but once thawed these microbes are again active. Active microbes can multiply the same way they would on fresh foods, potentially leading to foodborne illnesses. It's for this reason that companies processing read-to-cook foods are reminding us to read the labels and properly cook frozen food, ensuring bacteria and potential parasites are killed off.
Food processors have historically put the onus on the consumer to follow cooking instructions properly. But given the trend of using frozen foods in smoothies, etc. food processors are making adjustments at the processing level to better protect consumers and their brands. Food processors are seeking more hygienic equipment options for their processing facilities to ensure the safety of food and their consumers. CMP works with food processors in various industries to develop hygienic solutions for their ready-to-cook products. Want to learn more about upgrading your RTE and RTC food processing equipment? Reach out a member of our Technical Sales team to discuss.