- Never leave any food – frozen or otherwise – at room temperature for more than two hours, according to the USDA.
- Thawing in your refrigerator is the safest way to go – but it’s also the slowest.
- You can speed up your refrigerator thaw time by putting your frozen food on an aluminium pan, according to the Kitchn.
- Running warm or hot water over frozen food to thaw it is unsafe – but small amounts of food can safely be thawed in 140-degree water on your stovetop in just 10 to 12 minutes, according to America’s Test Kitchen.
The ability to freeze and store food for later is wonderful – especially if you love home-cooked meals, but also have a busy life outside your kitchen.
Unfortunately, sometimes getting food safely from a frozen state to one where you can cook or reheat it can be a challenge – especially when you’re short on time.
Here are some unsafe food defrosting pitfalls you probably thought were OK – as well as USDA-approved food safe methods to use when you’re thawing out your frozen food bounty.
Warm or hot water is usually not a safe way to defrost food quickly.
It’s happened to everyone: You had every intention of moving that chicken from the freezer to the fridge before you went to work – but you forgot.
Now it’s late, you’re tired after a long day, and you just want to pull dinner together quickly so you can relax.
You might think you can speed up the thawing process by sticking that chicken in a sink full of warm or hot water and get on with your meal plans – but don’t do it.
According to the USDA’s rules governing food safety, the longer any food spends in the temperature danger zone – located between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit – the more likely it is to make you sick.
If you’re in a big hurry to defrost something, never fear – that’s why microwaves have defrost settings. They’re a much safer bet next time you’re in a rush.
However, if you heat water in a pot on the stove to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, there is one safe way to use hot water to defrost small amounts of food.
According to America’s Test Kitchen, you can use a properly calibrated thermometer to heat a pot of water to 140 degrees Fahrenheit on your stove top.
Next, place your small cuts of meat inside zip-top bags – such as a chicken breast or two – or a baggie of frozen soup in the water to thaw.
Don’t leave the meat unattended – it should thaw in 10 to 12 minutes. That’s quicker than leaving it in your fridge, and it also doesn’t allow enough time for harmful bacteria to start to grow.
Unfortunately, this method won’t work with larger pieces of meat – like a whole bird or a leg of lamb. Larger items like those would still take too long to thaw for good food temperature safety using this method.
Refreezing food left out of the refrigerator isn’t a safe bet.
Let’s say, for example, you take out chicken to defrost it then, after an hour or two goes by, you decide to cook something else instead. At this point, despite what you might think, it’s not safe to refreeze that chicken.
According to the USDA, you should not refreeze any food left outside the refrigerator for longer than two hours. Further, if it’s a hot day, specifically over 90 degrees Fahrenheit, your food will be unsafe to refreeze after just one hour.
Thawing food on your countertop at room temperature is a dangerous idea — don’t do it.
Leaving your food – any food, not just meat – at room temperature for over two hours makes it a great place for dangerous bacteria to proliferate and make your loved ones miserable.
For this reason, the USDA advises that you should never thaw your food on your counter – generally speaking, you’d have to leave most frozen foods out much longer than two hours to defrost them all the way if you only used this method to do it.
You may have heard about the aluminium pan defrosting trick — it definitely speeds things up, but here’s how to use this hack safely.
As J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats noted in this handy video, thawing meat or anything else on an aluminium surface noticeably speeds up the defrosting process.
But according to the USDA, bacteria can double in number in as little as 20 minutes if your food is left at room temperature. Obviously, you want to keep your food in a safe temperature range as much as possible.
Christine Gallary from the Kitchn ran an experiment to see just how much faster the aluminium pan trick made defrosting 2.5-inch thick pork chops. She found that the chop defrosted on an aluminium pan took one hour to defrost, while the chop defrosted on a regular dinner plate took an hour and 45 minutes – nearly double the aluminium pan time.
While she stressed that she didn’t eat the pork chops after performing this test because they would no longer have been safe, her experiment definitely documented the sizeable speed increase.
If you simply stick your food to be defrosted on an aluminium pan and store it in the fridge instead of on your counter, you can have both good food safety and a speedier result in your defrosting.
When possible, plan ahead and use one of these tried-and-true methods for all your safe food defrosting needs.
Business Insider spoke to Cornell University food science professor Robert Gravani, who took them through the four safest ways to defrost your food in this short, helpful video.
If you’re planning on cooking that frozen salmon fillet for dinner tomorrow, stick it in your fridge to thaw tonight before you go to bed. That way, it will be ready to go when you get home – and you won’t have to even worry about it when you’re rushing around tomorrow morning.
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