Thursday, October 8, 2009

Frozen Food Rant

Since I'm single (and American), I eat a fair amount of frozen convenience foods. It's only natural to have some aspects of things annoy me, and since I like to rant, here's a rant.

Idiotic cooking times

Most frozen products have both microwave directions and oven directions. Sometimes they have skillet/pan fry/deep fryer directions, but it's dependent on the product. The presence of more than one set of cooking directions makes sense, since they're convenience items. They give the microwave directions so you can prepare it quickly, and the oven directions so you can prepare it correctly. Now I know microwaves are faster than ovens at cooking things, but sometimes the cooking time for the oven directions is crazy.

I have in my hands (well, on my desk, my hands are obviously typing away on my keyboard) the box for Red Baron Singles Deep Dish, pepperoni variety. Let's take a look at its directions, shall we?

Preheat oven to 375°F, remove it from packaging and put directly on the rack. The "directly on the rack" thing I'll cover in a moment, but the next bit is what I'm on about right now. Cook for 21-23 minutes. TWENTY ONE TO TWENTY THREE MINUTES. For a pizza that's approximately 5 inches in diameter (I measured it with a ruler to be sure) and about an inch thick (I didn't measure this but there's no way it's significantly more than an inch). Red Baron's regular full-size pizzas only take 17-19 minutes. What the hell.

Most frozen things' oven directions use a temperature of 400° or 450°. I'm sure if I jacked it up I could cut the cooking time down tremendously. But I don't have the money or time to experiment with it, nor do I wish to eat a shitton of pizza.

"Place directly on the rack"

I know why they want you to do this, but I'm not going to do it. They want you to do it so the item (usually a pizza) doesn't sit in its own grease and get all soggy. But all that grease has to go somewhere, and gravity dictates it's going to go down. Towards the heating element in the electric oven. Thanks a lot. I think I'll avoid setting the house on fire thank you very much.

Also in addition to avoiding setting the house on fire, putting it on a baking sheet makes keeping your oven clean a lot easier. You can always soak up the grease with a paper towel. Just sayin'.

"Cook to an internal temperature of 160°F" in addition to regular cooking directions

Like hell I'm going to get out a meat thermometer or something and measure the temperature of something frozen I've just heated up. As long as there aren't any spots that are still cold, it's good. Plus, shouldn't your directions ensure that it reaches whatever internal temperature it's supposed to reach?

Frozen items are convenience items. It's not convenient to have to jam a thermometer into it to see if it's at some arbitrary temperature. Fail.

Warning that the product will be hot

One should hope. I just stuck it in a 375° oven for 21 minutes, if it's still cold there's a problem with my oven. Are people really so stupid that they need to be warned that something that's just come out of an oven will be hot? Oh wait, that's why we have the Stella awards.

What a sad world we live in, when the obvious requires warnings.

Different directions for different amounts of the product

Now I can see where this makes perfect sense. If you've got, say, a party size box of TGI Friday's Chicken Quesadilla Rolls and you're heating them up in the oven, it makes sense that you might want to save some for later, and therefore you'd be heating up less than the entire package. It does take less time to heat up fewer things.

However, they completely arbitrarily assign the point at which you're supposed to use the longer cooking time. I know they have to divide it somewhere, but... there are directions for 6 or fewer and 7 or more. Normally I make half the package, which is usually 8. The 6 or fewer directions are 450° for 4:45, then flip and another 4:45. I question the need for flipping, but whatever. The 7 or more directions are 450° for 7 minutes then flip and 7 more minutes. I don't feel as though heating up 8 of them should require 150% of the cooking time required for heating up 6 when I'm only heating up 33% more.

Oven directions saying "flip the product over"

It's an oven, not a microwave. It'll heat stuff evenly without having to flip it or rotate it. It's true that some things are helped along by being flipped, or in the case of those TGI Friday's Chicken Quesadilla Rolls it browns the tortilla evenly. But hardly anything actually needs to be flipped in an oven. Only if you care about aesthetics.

Microwave directions without a specified microwave wattage

The major difference between microwaves that is responsible for cooking time changes is the wattage of the microwave. Our current microwave is 1200 watts. Our old one that died was 700. It doesn't help me adjust the cooking time for my microwave when you don't tell me what wattage you formulated the directions on. Companies are getting better about this, but it's still an issue.

The microwave directions don't work at all

This is mostly found with frozen burritos. Even if you follow the instructions perfectly that burrito will still have a cold spot. Guaranteed. I think they're written for convenience store microwaves which are typically a lot more powerful than your typical home microwave, but they don't tell you this and they're on the freezer aisle in regular grocery stores too.

Boxes with way less in them than they can hold

Consumer Reports has an award for this. It's called the Black Hole award. There's sometimes a product that gets awarded this oh-so-prestigious award in each month's Selling It, which is a collection of user-submitted advertising/marketing/packaging/instructions goofs and general WTFs. This mostly happens with the smaller boxes. Buy the party size whenever you can. It usually works out to be cheaper in the long run anyway.

The finished product doesn't look like it does on the box

This happens approximately 100% of the time. Why are companies allowed to misrepresent what the product looks like on its own label?

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