‘RAW’ in 3-inch letters on front of raw, frozen, breaded chicken thingies

That’s what a frustrated Kirk Smith, head of the foodborne disease unit of the Minnesota Department of Health, suggested to USA Today today as he described how people are still getting sick with Salmonella by microwaving raw, frozen, breaded chicken, despite the lack of microwave instructions.

"We wish the labels would be even more emphatic. … Maybe if on the front of the package there were 3-inch letters — RAW — who knows?"

Minnesota health officials met with producers of chicken products and were told that precooking wasn’t an option because it has an effect on the texture and appearance of the chicken.

A table of the relevant outbreaks is available at http://www.foodsafety.ksu.edu/en/article-details.php?a=3&c=32&sc=419&id=1245

and below.

Smith was also lead author on a paper describing previous outbreaks in the October issue of the Journal of Food Protection. It’s below.

Outbreaks of Salmonellosis in Minnesota (1998 through 2006) associated with frozen, microwaveable, breaded, stuffed chicken products
Journal of Food Protection, Vol 71, No 10, pp. 2153-2160(8)
Smith, Kirk E.; Medus, Carlota; Meyer, Stephanie D.; Boxrud, David J.; Leano, Fe; Hedberg, Craig W.; Elfering, Kevin; Braymen, C

From 1998 through 2006, four outbreaks of salmonellosis associated with raw, frozen, microwaveable, breaded, prebrowned, stuffed chicken products were identified in Minnesota. In 1998, 33 Salmonella Typhimurium cases were associated with a single brand of Chicken Kiev. In 2005, four Salmonella Heidelberg cases were associated with a different brand and variety (Chicken Broccoli and Cheese). From 2005 to 2006, 27 Salmonella Enteritidis cases were associated with multiple varieties of product, predominately of the same brand involved in the 1998 outbreak. In 2006, three Salmonella Typhimurium cases were associated with the same brand of product involved in the 2005 Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak. The outbreak serotype and pulsed-field gel electrophoresis subtype of Salmonella were isolated from product in each outbreak. In these outbreaks, most individuals affected thought that the product was precooked due to its breaded and prebrowned nature, most used a microwave oven, most did not follow package cooking instructions, and none took the internal temperature of the cooked product. Similar to previous salmonellosis outbreaks associated with raw, breaded chicken nuggets or strips in Canada and Australia, inadequate labeling, consumer responses to labeling, and microwave cooking were the key factors in the occurrence of these outbreaks. Modification of labels, verification of cooking instructions by the manufacturer, and notifications to alert the public that these products contain raw poultry, implemented because of the first two outbreaks, did not prevent the other outbreaks. Microwave cooking is not recommended as a preparation method for these types of products, unless they are precooked or irradiated prior to sale.

Sarah goes shopping for raw frozen chicken thingies

I’m not going to the annual meeting of the International Association for Food Protection this year. Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s the meeting, maybe I got other things going on.

Sarah DeDonder, a PhD student at Kansas State, is going, and will be presenting some work we did last summer.

The abstract for the presentation is below. Yesterday, Sarah shared the results of her latest shopping adventure. Food safety is so simple, yet I find myself further confused.

Sarah writes:

I recently moved from Manhattan to a small town north of Topeka.  Moving to Topeka has given me access to a whole new array of grocery stores not available in Manhattan. Yesterday I decided to venture out to the local Hyvee. 

My research focuses on frozen, uncooked, breaded chicken entrees.  It has become habit for me, once I enter a grocery store, to head to the frozen food section to see what products the store has available to their customers.  My trip to Hyvee was no different.  While roaming the aisles I came across the frozen food section containing the breaded chicken entrees.  I couldn’t help but examine how the products were placed and I intensely examined most, if not all, of the product labels on the uncooked breaded chicken entrees available to the consumer.  I quickly noted the product placement—fully cooked products were shelved directly next to uncooked products.  Also, stuffed chicken entrees still contained microwavable instructions.  I had hit the jackpot at this store.                 

Over the last ten years there have been a variety of outbreaks of salmonellosis linked to raw breaded chicken entrées such as chicken strips, nuggets, and stuffed chicken entrees.  Most of the cases implicated in the outbreaks prepared the entrees in the microwave. It is a quick and easy way to cook a product, but it isn’t the safest route to take in cooking a breaded chicken entree.  As a result of the outbreaks processors were encouraged to remove microwavable instructions from product packaging.  Most did, so it isn’t very often that one finds microwavable instructions still on the package.  Does this mean that consumers no longer cook these products in the microwave because the label states not to?  On yet another of my outings to the grocery store, my friend and I found the answer.  We were looking at the products available when a girl walked up.  We asked her, when she had the product in hand and the cooking instructions side up, how she would cook the product. She responded, quite confidently, just put it in the microwave. She then went on to explain to us it isn’t as crisp as cooking it in the oven, but it is quicker.  The product label in bold lettering stated, “DO NOT MICROWAVE.” 

Product labels are provided on product packing to provide guidance to the consumers.  Labels should contain concise cooking instructions and clearly convey to the consumer that a food thermometer should be used to check the final internal temperature of the entree.

In August, at IAFP, I will be presenting the findings from a study completed last summer where we observed and documented kitchen preparation practices of consumers using uncooked, frozen, breaded chicken products.  So if you are there and are interested you should come check it out.

Dedonder, S., Powell, D.A., Wilkinson, C., Surgeoner, B., Chapman, B., and Phebus, R. 2008. Beyond Intent — Direct Observation Of Meal Preparation Procedures In A Home Kitchen Setting.


Purpose – This study used a novel video capture system to observe the
food preparation practices of 41 consumers – 21 primary meal preparers
and 20 adolescents – in a mock domestic kitchen using uncooked, frozen,
breaded chicken products, and to determine if differences exist between
consumers’ reported safe food handling practices and actual food
handling behavior as prescribed on current product labels.

Design/methodology/approach – A convenience sample was utilized and all
participants were video-recorded preparing food in one-of-two model
kitchens at Kansas State University. Participants were asked to complete
a survey reporting food handling behaviors that would be typical of
their own home kitchen.

Findings – Differences between self-reported and observed food safety
behaviors were seen across both groups of consumers. Many participants
reported owning a food thermometer (73 per cent) and indicated using one
when cooking raw, breaded chicken entrées (19.5 per cent); however, only
five participants were observed measuring the final internal temperature
with a food thermometer despite instructions on the product packaging to
do so; only three used the thermometer correctly.

Significance – Data collected through direct observation more accurately
reflects consumer food handling behaviors than data collected through
self-reported surveys, and label instructions are rarely followed.

Originality/value – This study contributes to the overall understanding
of consumer behaviors associated with consumers’ intentions and actual
behaviors while preparing meat and poultry products, such as frozen,
uncooked, breaded chicken products.