Heat-and-eat fully cooked meals were already popular prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. It did not take long after stay-at-home orders were put in place that many home cooks got tired of meal preparation, fueling the growth of warm-and-serve meat and poultry dishes. The challenge for many processors and foodservice operators is preparing these products in sufficient quantity to meet consumer demands, while ensuring their quality until dinner is served.


“Before the pandemic, customers were out and on-the-go, grabbing breakfast on the way to work, buying lunch while running errands or indulging in an after-school Slurpee treat,” said Robin Murphy, senior director of fresh foods, 7-Eleven Inc., Irving, Texas, which is now offering some of its most popular hot food items as ready to bake at home.


Options include cheese or pepperoni pizza, chicken tenders, buffalo and spicy bone-in wings, breaded boneless wings and Monterrey Jack chicken taquitos.


“That has all changed and people are home and eating together as families. We can give them the convenience of picking up a couple of pizzas and wings to prepare when they are ready to enjoy them,” Murphy said.


Heating, freezing, exposure to oxygen during storage and reheating fully cooked meat products makes them susceptible to oxidation and warmed-over flavor development. One bad taste experience may result in one less customer.


“A growing number of meat and poultry processors are exploring clean-label ingredients to protect product quality during shelf life,” said Courtney Schwartz, marketing director, Kemin Industries, Des Moines, Iowa. “Plants in the Lamiaceae family, such as rosemary, contain phenolic diterpenes that can serve as effective molecules to scavenge free radicals and delay oxidation in food applications. When rosemary extract is combined with green tea extract, a source of molecules known as catechins, the resulting natural plant extract blend can provide superior performance to stabilize meat products during shelf life.”