You’re reading a recipe and it calls for a food item like meat or rice to be fully cooked.
Perhaps you’re browsing the frozen foods section at the grocery store and notice a phrase that pops up again and again on boxes or bags – fully cooked.
All fully cooked means is that the food has been cooked long enough to not only completely change it in some way, but that it’s safe to eat.
What Does Fully Cooked Mean?
In recipes, fully cooked means changing the food through cooking to make it both delicious and safe to eat. For packaged foods labeled “fully cooked” they must follow the USDA’s definition of fully cooked as a food item completely cooked at the factory or processing plant that can either be eaten right away or heated up. Fully cooked is also a slang phrase that has nothing to do with food.
“Fully Cooked” as Used in Recipes
Many recipes require one or more food items in a meal to be fully cooked.
On the one hand, this means that the food does not need any more cooking (besides reheating, if necessary) so that it is safe to eat.
Meat dishes may urge the reader to fully cook the meat in order to avoid food poisoning.
Food that has been fully cooked usually undergoes some fundamental change.
This often means a change in texture to make it easier to chew or simply taste better.
When you are urged in a recipe to fully cook rice, it means that all of the rice is tender and no longer rock-hard grains.
Fully cooked oats swell up and become softer when fully cooked, making oatmeal.
Fully cooked can also mean not only a change in texture but a change in color.
Fully cooked pies, for instance, have a crust that has turned from a pale tan into a golden brown.
It’s the color change that lets you know to take the pie out of the oven and let it cool before eating.
“Fully Cooked” as Used for Meat
Fully cooked meat often has a complete color change so that the inside is no longer pink.
However, that is not the definition of fully cooked by the United States Department of Agriculture.
Its definition of fully cooked means that the food reached a certain temperature.
Chicken, for example, is considered safe to eat even if it is still somewhat pink inside and leaks pink juice when pricked.
All the chicken needs to do to be fully cooked is to reach a temperature of at least 165 degrees F.
This temperature needs to be taken inside the chicken with a meat thermometer.
It does not matter what temperature the skin is.
The FDA also notes that “Consumers may wish to cook poultry at a higher temperature for personal preference.”
Many people argue with the FDA’s definition, saying that the temperatures recommended wind up making meat too tough and flavorless.
Many chefs and steak-lovers state that a well-done or fully cooked steak cooked to the recommended 145 degrees F is fully ruined.
In the end, what you consider “fully cooked” meat winds up being your own personal preference.
“Fully Cooked” as Used for Frozen or Refrigerated Foods
When food shopping, you’ll often see the same phrases repeated over and over again, like fully cooked.
All this means is that the food was completely cooked at whatever company makes the food before it was put into a package and shipped to the store.
All it needs is to be reheated.
Be careful to read all of the directions when buying frozen foods, especially frozen meats.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) put out a warning that some frozen meats, like chicken, have markings on them that make them look as if they do not need cooking.
Fully Cooked Means Different Things in Different Countries
However, there are different definitions of just what fully cooked or completely cooked means depending upon what country you live in.
If you live in America, you may be surprised (and slightly appalled) about what is considered completely cooked, even though the food does not look completely cooked.
Scrambled eggs are a case in point.
In America, scrambled eggs are usually served fully cooked or “hard” so that they are not liquid in any way.
In the UK, these are considered ruined.
Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay even states that the most important part of cooking scrambled eggs “is stopping them from overcooking.”
Scrambled eggs are not fully cooked so that they have a smoother, creamier texture, similar to cottage cheese.
These kinds of scrambled eggs are considered safe to eat in the UK, but not considered safe by America’s Federal Drug Administration, which recommends that scrambled eggs “should not be runny.”
In the United States, bad eggs are a common cause of salmonella poisoning.
About 140,000 people get salmonella from eggs every year in America.
Oddly enough, salmonella poisoning by eggs is comparatively rare in the UK.
For example, only about 33 people got sick from eggs a year during the years 2016-2019. Just why there is such a difference is unknown.
Fully Cooked Items
Today’s grocery stores are filled with items that have been thoroughly cooked and are ready to take home and eat, from pre-cooked meals featuring chicken, fish, beef, or pork, as well as frozen or canned vegetables.
A lot of our foods are cooked before we take them home. And, because of this, many of the foodborne risks of raw meat and vegetables are negated.
However, just because the item is fully cooked doesn’t necessarily mean you just eat it straight out of the refrigerator or freezer.
First, frozen chicken nuggets may be safe to eat, but they might not taste very good frozen.
Many of our fully cooked food items still carry instructions for preparing the food properly. The reasons for this are twofold.
The most important reason is taste. Hot dogs taste better cooked, in my opinion, but I still remember childhood friends eating them out of the refrigerator.
But, some reheating is often needed for the refrigerated or frozen food to taste good regardless of whether it is fully cooked or not.
However, cooked food and temperature have a complicated relationship. And, preparing your fully cooked food according to the manufacturer’s instructions is also a smart and safe practice.
How Fully Cooked Items Can Become Dangerous
Temperature is a big deal with food. Generally, we want our food to be cooked up nice and hot, or stored nice and cold.
And, if a fully cooked food item is not stored at the proper temperature, it can be susceptible to bacteria.
When the manufacturers of your frozen chicken, premade stir fry, or pre-cooked hot dogs cook these items, they ensure they are cooked to a safe temperature and then prepare them to be cooled or frozen.
Food manufacturers have to make sure that the food is prepared to specifications and then cooled down quickly to avoid bacteria.
However, we, the consumers, usually expose the fully cooked products to dangerous conditions.
Sometimes, it can be that the groceries are left in the hot car for too long or that the food didn’t get stored in the freezer quickly enough.
Other times, it can be that the packaged food was left out too long when being distributed to the stores.
Regardless of the reason, if fully cooked food is allowed to heat up to room temperature or thaw out, there is a risk for bacteria on the
food. This is why it is crucial to prepare the food according to recommendations.
Even if your frozen food encountered some harmful bacteria by being left out, preparing the food with an oven, grill, fryer, or microwave will generally destroy any harmful bacteria.
To be safe, always prepare your fully cooked items as directed.
And, avoid letting frozen or refrigerated items be left out for more than an hour or two.
If you open canned food, eat it immediately, cook it, or refrigerate it.
Don’t Get Fooled By Verbiage
Consumers must pay attention to the labeling of food packages.
While fully cooked, the food could potentially be eaten out of the box.
Other labels on food warn that the items should never be eaten right out of the package.
Sometimes, we skim the labels looking for the keyword, cooked, and then we move on in our busy lives.
However, be aware that meat can be partially cooked or be subject to non-continuous cooking.
In essence, partially cooked or non-continuous cooking is a state where the food was cooked partway, but not entirely, and then frozen and packaged.
These products are not safe to thaw out and eat, especially if they are meat products like chicken, fish, or pork.
Do not skim the labels and think that you bought something that was fully cooked when it was not.
Partially cooked items require more preparation and cooking than simply being warmed up in the microwave.
Frequently Asked Questions About What Does Fully Cooked Mean
Are Frozen Meals Fully Cooked?
Not all frozen meals are fully cooked. Some are only partially cooked. You have to carefully read the instructions. Products labeled “ready to cook”, “cook and serve” or “oven-ready” need actual cooking in or on top of a stove or extensive microwaving before they are safe to eat.
Does Ready to Eat Mean Fully Cooked?
“Ready to eat” or RTE means that no further cooking or heating up is required. You just eat it straight from the package. This label is often found on salads, sandwiches, cheese, desserts, smoked fish, and cooked cut-up pieces of chicken.
What Does the Slang Phrase Fully Cooked Mean?
There are two current uses of “fully cooked” in English and American slang, but neither of them has to do with cooking food. The first meaning is that you are completely stoned or intoxicated. The second meaning is high praise for something really cool, such as “That restaurant was fully cooked. I can’t wait to go back.”
Can I eat canned vegetables straight out of the can?
Canned vegetables are safe to eat out of the can. However, check whether the can has been damaged, is leaking, or is bulging at all in one area. These are signs that the contents may be spoiled.
If the meat is pre-cooked, why do I have to heat it up like raw meat?
Generally, this is for enjoyment. As specified by the manufacturer, heating the food is how they deem it tastes best and ought to be served. If it is fully cooked, the risk is minimal for sickness if you eat it frozen or out of the fridge unless the food was left out for an extended time.
The Least You Need to Know
Fully cooked is a term used for different reasons when it comes to food.
For cooking meat, it means that there is no pink left in any part of the meat.
You’ll also see the term for frozen foods.
This means that everything in the frozen food has been frozen after being completely cooked.
It only needs to be heated back up.