Did your microwave nuke the bacteria?

N.Y. Times business columnist Andrew Martin writes in Sunday’s paper (Oct. 14/07) that he’s gotten used to the idea that hamburgers can make you sick. But frozen dinners?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now says at least 165 people in 31 states have become ill with the same strain of salmonella, with the Banquet pot pies being the likely source.

Martin says,
"it is relatively easy to figure out when a hamburger is well done by checking to see that it is no longer pink."

Uh-oh. Color is a lousy indicator of doneness. But more about that in upcoming weeks.

Martn continues,

"it’s preposterous to expect consumers to know how the cooking power of their microwave compares with others."

Douglas Powell, an associate professor and scientific director of the International Food Safety Network at Kansas State University said,

"Even if I have a 1,000-watt microwave, how do I know if it’s high, medium or low?"

Professor Powell bought one of the pot pies and cooked it, following the instructions, then checked the temperature with a thermometer.

After four minutes, the pie was 48 degrees, leading him to conclude his microwave was low wattage. After six minutes, it was 204 degrees near the top but 127 degrees farther into the pie.

He finally ate it after zapping it for another two minutes, when the pie temperature was 194 degrees. (An account of the experiment is at barfblog.foodsafety.ksu.edu)

Martin further says,

with the proliferation of ready-to-cook foods in the frozen foods aisle, the variation in the cooking times is a little scary. Is it long enough to kill the bugs, even if my microwave is 15 years old?

ConAgra Foods finally came to its senses on Thursday night and recalled all of its pot pies. It also acknowledged problems with its cooking instructions.