Thawing Foods Safely (E3259)

October 20, 2016

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You can thaw frozen foods safely in three ways: refrigerator thawing, cold water thawing and microwave thawing. In the process of thawing, never keep food in the “Danger Zone,” between 40 °F and 140 °F. Bacteria can grow quickly in these temperatures. Never thaw foods in the basement, in the car, on the kitchen counter or any place other than in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave.


Thawing frozen food in the refrigerator

When thawing frozen food in the refrigerator, plan ahead and remember these facts:

  • Large frozen meat or poultry requires at least 24 hours to thaw for every 5 pounds of weight.
  • Certain areas in the refrigerator may keep food colder than other areas.
  • Ground meat, stew meat, poultry and seafood should remain safe for an additional day or two before cooking.
  • Red meat cuts will remain safe for an additional 3 to 5 days.
  • Food thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking.

Thawing frozen food in cold water

When thawing frozen food using the cold-water thawing method, a faster method than refrigerator thawing, follow these steps:

  • Place food in a leak-proof package or plastic bag.
  • Submerge the package or bag in cold tap water.
  • Change the water every 30 minutes.
  • If you use this method, you should cook the food before refreezing.

Small packages of meat, poultry or seafood may thaw in an hour or less. However, a package of 3 to 4 pounds of food may take 2 to 3 hours.

Thawing frozen food in the microwave

  • Food should be cooked immediately after this thawing method.
  • Foods thawed in the microwave should be cooked before refreezing.

Cooking without thawing

It is safe to cook foods while still frozen; however, cooking time will be 50 percent longer than the recommended time for fully thawed or fresh meat and poultry.


USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. (2013, June). The Big Thaw – Safe Defrosting Methods for Consumers. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/the-bigthaw-safe-defrosting-methods-for-consumers/CT_Index.

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Related Topic Areas

Safe Food & Water, Food & Health


Joyce McGarry

Joyce McGarry

Joyce McGarry

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