This has happened to most of us – You come home, go to cook dinner and realize that you have forgotten to thaw the meat. What now? The first thought is to run it under hot water…..wrong! This can lead to bacteria growth and foodborne illnesses. So, how do you safely thaw meat?
According to the USDA, “Raw or cooked meat, poultry or egg products, as any perishable foods, must be kept at a safe temperature during ‘the big thaw’. They are safe indefinitely while frozen. However, as soon as they begin to thaw and become warmer than 40 °F, bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to multiply.” This means that perishable foods should never be thawed on the counter, or in hot water and must not be left at room temperature for more than two hours. Although the center of the package may still be frozen as it thaws on the counter, the outer layer of the food could be in the “Danger Zone” (between 40 and 140 °F where bacteria multiply rapidly). This can be avoided by following these:
1. Refrigerator Thawing – This is the optimal method and takes some planning ahead because of the lengthy time involved. For example, a large frozen item like a turkey requires at least a day (24 hours) for every 5 pounds of weight. Even smaller portions of frozen food – such as a 1lb of ground meat or boneless chicken breasts – require a full day to thaw. When thawing foods in the refrigerator, there are some variables to consider:
When using this method, items such as ground meat, stew meat, poultry, seafood, should remain safe and good quality for an additional day or two before cooking; red meat cuts (such as beef, pork or lamb roasts, chops and steaks) 3 to 5 days.
Note: Food thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking but there may be some loss of quality.
2. Cold Water Thawing – This method is faster than refrigerator thawing but requires more attention. The food must be in a leak-proof package or plastic bag because if the bag leaks, bacteria from the air or surrounding environment could contaminate the food. The meat tissue may also absorb water, resulting in a watery product.
Small packages of meat, poultry or seafood — about a pound — may thaw in an hour or less. A 3-to 4-pound package may take 2 to 3 hours. For whole turkeys, estimate about 30 minutes per pound.
Cooked immediately when thawed thoroughly.
Note: Foods thawed by the cold water method should be cooked before refreezing.
3. Microwave Thawing – If you thawing food in a microwave, plan to cook it immediately after thawing. This is because some sections of the food may become warm and begin to cook during the thawing process (bringing your food to “Danger Zone” temperatures).
Note: Foods thawed in the microwave should be cooked before refreezing.
4. Cooking Without Thawing – When there is not enough time to defrost frozen foods, or you’re simply in a hurry (as most of us usually are), remember that it is safe to cook foods from the frozen state. Your cooking times will take approximately 50% longer than recommended for fully thawed or fresh meat and poultry.
The important takeaway is, while thawing, keep your foods at safe temperatures (40 °F and below) to prevent bacteria growth and foodborne illnesses. Now get cooking!
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