Life is short. So can you eat your corn from frozen? We explore why frozen corn, even though it’s precooked, requires cooking.
When you’re short on time and low on energy, frozen corn is a true blessing. It’s affordable, it’s delicious, and it’s nutritious—and you can cook up all kinds of comfort meals with it, from creamed corn to corn chowder to cornbread.
But can you eat frozen corn without cooking it first?
This is a good question, and an important one at that. We cook food not only because it smells and tastes better, but because the heat kills the harmful bacteria that may live on its surface. (You know, the kind that causes food poisoning.)
Everyone knows that frozen corn is precooked. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to chew it and you would have to cook it for hours, which defeats the very purpose of frozen food—to save you time and require minimal effort.
So… can you?
Let’s just say that the answer will surprise some (or most) of you.
Don’t eat frozen corn without heating it first. Frozen corn that hasn’t undergone thermal treatment may contain Listeria monocytogenes and other bacteria that cause food poisoning. If you heat the corn until it’s too hot to touch, the bacteria on it will be killed and it will become safe to eat.
What This Means for Your Home Cooking
Don’t misunderstand this:
You don’t have to give up frozen corn, nor do you have to stew it for hours and hours as a precaution. Not at all. It just means that you should heat it, and heat it well, before you eat it or serve it on the family dinner table.
Listeria, a germ that lives in the soil and survives freezer temperature, dies when it’s exposed to temperatures of 165°F (74°C) and above.
This is less than the boiling point of water (212°F/100°C), so steamed or simmered corn can be just as safe to eat as corn cooked in a rolling boil. Butter, cooking oil, and animal fat heat much more than water, so the safety of fried or pan-fried corn is not a concern.
When I want to add frozen corn to a salad or dip, I like to bring a pot of liberally salted water to a boil, pour the corn, and leave it in there for 60-90 seconds to thaw and heat up. The corn is ready when it’s steaming and too hot to touch.
(In case you’re wondering, the salt doesn’t do much other than flavor the corn during heating.)
Why Frozen Foods May Have Listeria
To produce frozen corn, producers husk, blanch, cool, cut, package, and then quick-freeze the corn. 99.9% of the time, the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria are killed during the corn’s production process. It’s that 0.01% that you don’t want to take your chances with.
Listeria outbreaks can occur because something has gone wrong in some plant, whether due to technology malfunctioning or workers making an error. And when it happens, products get recalled from grocery store shelves because consumers try to eat them without cooking them first.
Ingesting listeria can be deadly.
In 2018, Heart.co.uk reported that 9 people across Europe died when a pan-European listeria outbreak broke out from frozen corn processed at a freezing plant in Hungary.
The magazine spoke with Dr. Kathie Grant of Public Health England, the Department of Health and Social Care’s executive agency in England from 2013 to 2021.
Dr. Grant left little room for interpretation of her advice to the magazine’s audience: “We are reminding people that most frozen vegetables, including sweet corn, need to be cooked before eating.”
Related: Can You Refreeze Frozen Vegetables?
Should You Take This Seriously?
Frozen foods are convenient, no question about it.
But even if you buy from the best brands with the most stringent safety practices and quality control procedures, there is no guarantee that the frozen corn in the bag is 100% safe to eat without thermal treatment.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this is especially important if you are pregnant, 65 years old or older, have a weakened immune system, and/or are cooking for someone who is.
Nobody is immune from bad luck, so when it comes to the food you put on the table, it’s important to err on the side of caution and play it safe.
The good news is that this is easy to fix. Even if you don’t plan to cook the corn, all you need to do is bring a pot of water to a boil, drop it in for a minute or two, then pour it onto a sieve and interrupt the cooking process it under cold running water.
Steam, blanch, boil, sauté, pan-fry, bake, roast, or broil your sweet corn, on its own or as an ingredient in a home-cooked meal. But if you want it to be safe (and you do), don’t eat it or serve it raw.
And this doesn’t apply to just corn, either.
Everything we’ve mentioned here applies to frozen vegetables in general, not just corn. Whether it’s frozen peas, baby carrots, broccoli, or even a frozen vegetable mix, it’s always a good idea to take the time to heat them up.