Frozen food products have increased significantly in recent years. Packages that don't provide comprehensive heating directions can result in an unsatisfactory experience. Operators need to know the correct heating requirements for all their frozen food.
The improved quality and variety of frozen food has given vending operators a big advantage in competing against quick serve restaurants and brown baggers. Up and coming vending operators welcome the new varieties of bacon cheeseburgers, egg rolls, stir fry platters and burritos -- more and more of which bear national and even restaurant brand names.
Fine and good. No one will argue that the trusty frozen hamburger, heated according to the manufacturer's recommended heating time, tastes great! Customer satisfied! Location intact!
But wait. Last week the microwave began to malfunction. Johnny put the burger in and it didn't come out steaming hot. So he put it in again for another minute and steaming hot it was. Good and hot, so he thought. But when he bit in, the entire lunch room heard the sound of his teeth grinding through the charred bread -- until into the trash can it went. Satisfied customer no more. Later that day, Johnny told five of his co-workers about his experience.
The names have been changed, but the story is true. Today's food offerings give operators more options than ever, and the availability of frozen food machines has opened up even more opportunities. But with more products and machines available, so are the chances for improper heating and unsatisfactory customer experiences. One set of heating instructions won't cover all possibilities.
Operators and manufacturers need to learn more about heating
An informal survey of both vending operators and frozen food manufacturers indicates a weak understanding of the circumstances by which most consumers prepare precooked food. Operators reported a wide variance of microwave power level in use. Product manufacturers offered no consensus on whether or not consumer or commercial ovens are more prevalent in vending locations.
The overwhelming majority of operators interviewed were not aware of how many of their food packages give heating instructions, let alone how many offer instructions for both refrigerated and frozen heating. Even operators who pride themselves on the quality of their food expressed total ignorance of heating instructions on their food packages.
Many operators and manufacturers claim that consumers in general are familiar enough with microwave heating, and are able to figure out how long a product should be heated. However, the increasing number of frozen food machines, coupled with the growth in products, has raised the bar for potential errors. Fifteen seconds of excessive heating can turn epicurean nirvana into gastronomic Armageddon.
To be fair to both operators and manufacturers, even culinary experts sometimes disagree on how long any particular item should be heated. If the experts can't always agree, how can operators know what to do?
Froze versus thawed, pros and cons
"There is no reason that a sandwich can't be cooked from frozen, but it is hard to say what the quality will be as it takes different amounts of time for the various ingredients to thaw and heat, whereas when it is thawed, they will all warm at a more consistent rate," said Sarah Risch, Ph.D., consultant to the Chicago-based Institute of Food Technologists and former director of research and development at Golden Valley Microwave Foods Inc.
"In general, freezing will maintain better tasting products," she added. "I think it is important for vendors to talk to their suppliers or get back to the actual product manufacturer to understand how the product was developed and what testing was conducted to ensure the safety and quality of the product."
Learn individual heat requirements