The new requirement was sparked by a recent food recall due to consumer confusion over whether such products needed to be cooked. The product led to a number of people falling sick from Salmonella enteritidis.
The labelling must be submitted for re-approval by May 1. If the FSIS does not receive the modified labels by the deadline, manufacturers will will have to withdraw the product.
The new labels should clearly state: "Uncooked: For Safety, Must be Cooked to an Internal Temperature of 165 degrees F as Measured by Use of a Thermometer", the Food Safety and Inspection Service's (FSIS) recommended in a regulatory notice.
The labelling re-application requirement applies to frozen poultry products that may also be stuffed or filled, charmarked, or artificially colored. Such products are similar frozen stuffed chicken entrees from that the FSIS recalled on March 10.
"What we know is that these products were not cooked by consumers to a safe internal temperature," the FSIS said in announcing the new requirement. "FSIS is concerned that the labeling of products of this type be adequate to inform the public of the manner of handling required to maintain the products in a wholesome condition and to prepare them safely."
The recall proved that labels for uncooked, breaded, boneless poultry products on the market may not be understood or followed by consumers.
"This lack of understanding may result in the consumers not cooking the products to the minimum internal temperature (165 degrees F) necessary for the destruction of foodborne bacteria, even though the cooking instructions on the product labeling tell them to do so," the FSIS stated.
The FSIS will also approve the accompanying cooking instructions to insure consumers understand them. The instructions may not meet regulatory standards if consumers are directed to use a cooking method that is not practical or not likely to achieve the necessary level of food safety, the FSIS stated.
Microwaving or using a toaster oven to cook frozen product may not achieve the recommended internal temperature.
"A fundamental part of label evaluation is to ensure that labeling will be understood and followed by consumers," the FSIS stated.
The agency is responsible for issuing inspection marks on poultry and meat products signifying that the product, as labeled, is safe and wholesome, and that the label is not misleading.
The FSIS is making a "strong recommendation" that the labeling of the poultry products be modified to emphasise that the products are not cooked.
"Further enhancement of the cooking instructions and validation that lethality is achieved with all the methods of cooking preparation that are declared on the labels are necessary in our view," the FSIS stated.
The agency recommends that food companies follow any recommendations on the subject made by the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods (NACMCF), which last met on March 22.
"We suggest that the recommendations that are developed by the NACMCF serve as a guide for the modifications that are needed to the labels for your products such that the subject products can be assured to result in safe and wholesome products, and that the revised labeling is not misleading," the FSIS stated.
Serenade Foods Division, a Milford, Ind., firm, voluntarily recalled 75,800 pounds of frozen stuffed chicken entrees in March. The raw chicken entrees, because of their frozen state, labeling, and cooked appearance, may have caused consumers to believe these raw products are pre-cooked, the recall notice stated.
The products were contaminated with Salmonella Enteritidis that causes human illness. Illnesses have been linked directly to these products through case history of the patients and through microbiological testing of both the products and affected consumers.