Let’s talk about why you should at least heat, if not cook, your frozen peas before eating them.
When you’re short on time and low on energy, frozen peas are of the best hacks for your home cooking.
From pea soup to buttered peas to pea stew, these small, spherical wonders of nature are affordable, delicious, and nutritious.
But can you eat them without cooking, like in a salad?
Frozen peas are blanched before freezing, which means that they’re cooked just enough to be ready to eat, with or without thorough cooking.
However, the peas may still be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes bacteria, so you should heat them until they’re hot to the touch if you don’t plan to cook them.
You don’t need a pan, you don’t need an oven, and you certainly don’t need a microwave if and when you want to enjoy a delicious meal of frozen peas. Just put the peas in a pot of boiling water and leave them there for 60-90 seconds before taking them out.
Next, pour the peas into a colander and shake well to drain the water. Add a glug of extra virgin olive oil, season with a pinch of salt and black pepper to taste, then plate and serve on the dining table.
Pro tip: Add a pinch or two of salt to the water and give it a quick stir. The salty water will flavor the peas, and they will be much tastier than otherwise. Be sure to use fine salt, not crystal salt, as it may not dissolve completely.
Are Frozen Peas Already Cooked?
To understand if frozen peas are already cooked or not, let’s talk about how they are made.
Peas are sown in May and harvested in June and July. The peas are harvested, washed, and sorted. Then, they are blanched, cooled, and frozen. It’s during the blanching that the frozen peas are cooked.
Blanching is a cooking method in which the green peas are briefly immersed in hot water and then quickly cooled to stop the cooking process. Unlike canning, in which the peas become dark and turn mushy, blanching preserves their color and mouthfeel.
So, yes, frozen peas are already cooked by blanching, just enough to make them edible. You can always cook them more to make purée, cream soup, or green pea stew, but you can just as easily heat them in hot water for a minute.
Why Must Frozen Peas Be Heated?
To the question, “Can I eat frozen peas right out of the package?” there is a simple, three-word answer, and that answer is, “No, you shouldn’t.”
Pathogenic bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes live in the soil and can survive freezing. Frozen food manufacturers follow strict safety procedures to minimize the risk of contamination, but frozen foods can still become infected with listeria.
The reasons are many and unpredictable.
Sometimes dust and dirt carrying the bacteria can get to the processing plant’s equipment. Or a piece of equipment may malfunction and not wash or blanch the peas properly. Contamination can also occur after the food is blanched but before it is packaged.
The important thing to remember is that listeria is killed by heat—165°F (74°C), to be precise—so you want to make sure that you at least heat frozen peas before eating them. (If they are contaminated and you thaw them out, the listeria bacteria will multiply.)
Should You Take This Risk Seriously?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 million Americans contract a foodborne illness each year. To put the numbers in perspective, that’s one in seven people in the country! Of them, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.
The CDC estimates that 1,600 Americans get listeriosis—the foodborne illness caused by the germ Listeria monocytogenes—and 260 of them die. That’s 16.25% of everyone who gets infected with the disease.
Pregnant women, newborns, adults aged 65 or older, and people with weakened immune systems are most likely to get listeriosis, says the CDC. If you belong to one of these groups or are cooking for someone who does, then cook the frozen peas thoroughly.
Is It the Same for Other Frozen Vegetables?
If this is true for frozen green peas, is it also true for other frozen vegetables?
All frozen vegetables put you and your family at risk of Listeria contamination if you eat them directly from the package without heat treatment. The risk is small, but as we’ve already established, that doesn’t mean you should take it.
Because pathogenic bacteria live in the soil, vegetables that grow on the ground, such as carrots, are at greater risk of getting contaminated than those that grow on vines. They are washed and blanched before freezing, but sometimes they can still get infected in between cooling and packaging.
So heat your frozen veg to steaming hot, or better yet cook them thoroughly, and they should be fine.
How About Home Grown Peas?
Never eat home grown peas without cooking them first, even if you have frozen them. They may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, one of the pathogenic bacteria that live in the soil and can survive freezer temperature.
Remember that Listeria bacteria die at temperatures above 165°F (74°C). This means you should steam, boil, steam, fry, bake, roast, or broil your homegrown peas at least until they’re steaming hot to make them safe to eat.
Yes, you can eat frozen peas without thorough cooking. But if you want them to be safe for you and the family to eat (and you do), you should heat them until they’re steaming and too hot to touch first.