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Tuesday, Sep 19, 2017
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Microwave frozen meals thoroughly to be safe

Q: I sometimes use frozen dinners when I don't have time to cook. I just noticed that some of them are now specifying what wattage the microwave has to have to cook them! How picky do these manufacturers think they can get with us? What if I don't know how many watts my oven has? A: Don't knock the manufacturers too much. They are trying to protect you (and themselves, of course) by telling you how strong your microwave should be for their food. Several years ago there was at least one outbreak of food poisoning because people didn't cook their frozen meals enough. Often some or all of the ingredients in a frozen meal are raw or only partly cooked. That's to give you better quality of taste or texture when you heat the food. But that also means there's more chance that some bacteria survived. If you don't cook it hot enough and long enough to kill them, you could end up sick, too. But manufacturers can't test every size and model of microwave when they figure out what the instructions should be. So they use a common size and put the instructions for it on the package.
If your oven is stronger (has a higher wattage), the food might not need to cook as long. But if yours is older or weaker, you'll need more time. The best way to be safe is to know the strength of your oven, follow the directions on the package carefully, and use a thermometer to check before you eat. Heat the food, let it sit for several minutes if the package doesn't tell you how long, then test the temperature in several places. If you don't know the wattage of your oven, look inside the door, on the serial number plate on the back or in the owner's manual. Q: Do I have to make guacamole to be able to freeze avocados, or can I just freeze it in chunks or halves? Is it possible to can avocado? A: The quality of chunks, halves or other pieces of avocado after freezing will be really poor. But that doesn't mean you have to make guacamole. Mashed avocado can be frozen without the peppers, tomatoes or whatever else you put into it to make guacamole. Adding lemon juice will help keep it pretty bright green. Some people will add sugar if they intend to make cake or use it for other sweet recipes. If you don't sweeten it, then you can use it as sandwich spread, an ingredient in creamy salad dressings, or to make guacamole. The recommendation is to add a tablespoon of lemon juice for each 2 avocados. Stir it in as you mash the puree. Since air is what makes it turn brown, that's not what you want. Just cut the avocados in half, remove the seeds and scoop out the flesh to mash. There are no recommendations at all for canning avocado. I suspect that it would turn really brown and ugly if you did. But all its natural oils will slow down how fast the heat could get into the middle of the jar, so it would probably take a long time and the quality would be very poor. Don't try to invent any canning procedure for it, please, just freeze it!

Mary A. Keith, a licensed dietitian and health agent at Hillsborough County Extension, can be reached at mkeith@ufl.edu.
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