Are you inviting bacteria to dinner?

The improper thawing of frozen foods can lead to unwanted bacteria in food.

Meat in a plastic container.
Photo: Robert Owen-Wahl/Pixabay.

You have just arrived home after a long day and begin to think about preparing dinner. Unless you planned ahead and have meat thawing in the refrigerator, you might find yourself wondering how to get the frozen chicken on the table for your hungry family, quickly.

Proper thawing methods can ensure the safety of the food you serve in your home. If you are thawing foods on the countertop, in the kitchen sink or anywhere out of refrigeration, you could be inviting unwanted bacteria to dinner.

The temperature danger zone ranges between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Bacteria grow very rapidly in this zone, doubling every 20 minutes. Frozen food left sitting on the counter or in the sink in the temperature danger zone for more than two hours to thaw is not a safe practice. Though the center of the food might still be frozen, all the outer surfaces exposed to the unsafe temperatures can harbor bacteria that are multiplying rapidly. These are the type of bacteria that can lead to a foodborne illness after unsafe thawing occurs and the food is consumed.

Keep your frozen foods out of the danger zone by thawing foods safely. This will prevent bacteria from growing and causing foodborne illness. Michigan State University Extension recommends using the following safe thawing methods:

  • Thaw in the refrigerator, with the refrigerator temperature below 40 degrees. Thawing in the refrigerator involves planning for meals since it takes some extra time. Use a thermometer inside the refrigerator to maintain a safe temperature.
  • Thaw in cold water, keeping the water temperature below 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Thaw in the microwave on the defrost setting. Thawing in the microwave can result in unintentional cooking on the outer edges of the food, so it is recommended to completely cook the food item immediately after thawing.
  • Thaw as part of the cooking process. This will require a longer cooking time, to cook an item that is not completely thawed.

Using these safe thawing methods might take some additional planning but will allow you to serve safe meals to yourself and your family. For more food safety tips and tricks, visit MSU Extension's Safe Food & Water website.

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