ANAHEIM, CALIF. – Frozen meat and poultry products that appear to be ready-to-eat are more likely to be undercooked by consumers, said Daniel Engeljohn, Ph.D., adjunct assistant professor of nutrition the graduate faculty at Howard University, during a presentation at last week's Institute of Food Technologists 09 Annual Meeting and Food Expo.

Char-marked burger patties, for example, may appear R.T.E. but are not. "Stuffed poultry products that appear R.T.E. are most at risk," Dr. Engeljohn said. "The raw product often looks cooked. Plus, both R.T.E. and not-ready-to-eat products are both available, which adds to the confusion."

As a result, The Food Safety and Inspection Service is developing new information to help guide consumers, including more effective labeling.

Many consumers often do not check their microwave wattage before cooking, allow for enough standing time or use a food thermometer, Dr. Engeljohn and other presenters said. They further noted microwave heating can be spotty and non-uniform, which can lead to unpredictable results and implications for food quality and safety.

By allowing the food to stand a few minutes before eating, consumers can help even out cooking results. Dielectric properties (how an electric field behaves inside a material) changes drastically as frozen food thaws, which changes the absorption of microwaves, explained Ashim K. Datta, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering at Cornell University.

"This can lead to unpredictable results that have quality and safety implications," Dr. Datta added.