What’s the Difference Between Ready-to-Cook and Ready-to-Eat?


Consumers today are changing the way frozen foods are consumed by assuming that some items are ready-to-eat, writes CMP Equipment in a blog. The popularity of frozen food has risen in the last few years, as more and more people are turning to the frozen food isle not only for time-saving meals like pizza or frozen pasta but also quick frozen products to enhance meals and snacks.

Health conscious consumers also often reach for frozen fruit and vegetables to create their smoothies or dishes. But in some of these scenarios consumers are forgoing the cooking instructions on the package for their convenience, says the company.

Ready-to-cook vegetables were never intended to be used in their frozen state, but some consumers are assuming they are ready-to-eat. This change in consumer habits has prompted the industry to respond by adjusting everything from their processing equipment to packaging labels in an effort to prevent the public from becoming a victim of foodborne illness.

The question is: when it comes to determining what foods are ready-to-cook and what is ready-to-eat, what’s the difference?

Ready-to-eat foods are just that, ready to eat without preparation, heating or cooking. For example, deli meats, cheese, prepared sandwiches or salads. Ready-to-cook food is foods prepared with the expectation they will be heated/cooked to a specific internal core temperature by either microwave, oven, stovetop like frozen pizza, most frozen vegetables, frozen microwavable meals, or ready to bake cookie dough. CMP says these temperatures and cooking instructions are labeled on the product packaging for consumer convenience, yet sometimes ignored.

When consumers are eating ready-to-cook foods as if they were ready-to-eat, they are skipping an important step in food safety which is intended to kill bacteria. Consumers often assume that because a product has been frozen all present microbes, and bacteria would be killed off. The truth is, the freezing process deactivates these microbes, but once thawed these microbes are again active. Active microbes can multiply the same way they would on fresh foods, potentially leading to foodborne illnesses. It’s for this reason that companies processing ready-to-cook foods are reminding us to read the labels and properly cook frozen food, ensuring bacteria and potential parasites are killed off.

Food processors have historically put the onus on the consumer to follow cooking instructions properly. But given the trend of using frozen foods in smoothies, meals, food processors are making adjustments at the processing level to better protect consumers and their brands. Food processors are seeking more hygienic equipment options for their processing facilities to ensure the safety of food and their consumers, something which CMP encourages.