Gadgets Offer Food for "Thaw-t"
Did you forget to thaw the chicken for tonight's dinner? How are
you going to keep the baked bean casserole hot until you get to the tailgate party?
Some products on the market claim to solve mealtime dilemmas by thawing food quickly or
storing hot or cold food electronically. Before you buy one of these gadgets, read the ads
carefully: some products may not measure up to their claims, and they may even increase
the risk of food poisoning.
At issue is the proper storage of perishable foods such as meat, poultry, and fish.
Harmful bacteria can grow on foods held at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F a
danger zone that's above refrigeration and below cooking or holding temperatures
and this in turn can lead to food-borne illness. Use of some products like food thawing
trays and thermo-electric coolers may involve leaving food at these unsafe temperatures
for significant amounts of time.
Advertisements for thawing trays claim that frozen food can be thawed rapidly at room
temperature. Some ads claim the trays are made of a special superconductive
metal that speeds the natural thawing process. Yet most are simple aluminum trays, and the
same accelerated thawing effect can be achieved with any metal pan. In fact, thawing times
for these trays often are exaggerated in advertisements.
Because thawing trays require that food be thawed at room temperature, and many items
will have greatly extended thawing times of well over two hours, there's some risk that
harmful bacteria may develop. Generally, food safety experts agree that to avoid that
risk, frozen food should be thawed in the refrigerator, in a microwave oven, or in cold
water, but never at room temperature.
Other devices, called thermo-electric coolers, also are billed as food warmers.
Designed primarily to maintain the temperature of food that was already cool or warm
before being placed in the device, these products cannot cool or store food as effectively
as a refrigerator, and they often may hold food at unsafe temperatures. Their internal
cooling levels vary with outside conditions: use in hot weather, direct sunlight, or
enclosed spaces like an unventilated car may raise internal cooling levels beyond safe
As food warmers, these products generally do not reach the safety threshold of 140°.
Indeed, their maximum holding temperature isn't high enough either to kill off existing
bacteria or prevent further bacterial growth on food.
For more information about food safety, contact the Meat and Poultry Hotline operated
by the United States Department of Agriculture at 1-800-535-4555, or the Seafood Hotline
operated by the United States Food and Drug Administration at 1-800-332-4010.
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FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION
FOR THE CONSUMER
Prepared by the Federal Trade Commission
in conjunction with the United States Department of Agriculture and the United States Food
and Drug Administration.