Guest Post: Mike Stewart on Thawing Meat Safely
Some of you may remember a recent post on my blog I wrote about storing meat safely at home. I believe that storing meat safely at home is a really important and relevant issue to home cooks and I often suffer a bit of confusion about the best way to do things so was pleased to open the topic up to discussion to hear some of your great comments in my last post.
Coincidentally right before writing that last post, I was contacted by Mike Stewart, writer and Editor in Chief for the Australian Food Safety News, who very kindly offered to write a guest post on this issue for my blog, so I am very pleased to publish his following article on thawing meat safely at home today - please make him feel welcome!
Writer & Editor in Chief
Australian Food Safety News
Based in Brisbane, Mike has an extensive background in all areas of food safety and is currently a senior research consultant at the Australian Institute of Food Safety.
So, onto the article!
Many people aren’t sure of the correct ways to defrost meat and don’t know why some methods of defrosting meat can be dangerous. When foods reach a certain temperature range, often referred to as the “temperature danger zone”, the bacteria growth increases dramatically. You need to follow one of three following methods to thaw meat without creating a hazard.
The most important thing to remember is to never just leave meats out on the counter. This is one method that people use regularly for defrosting, but it can also be a great way to cause food poisoning. The temperature danger zone is between 5 and 60 degrees Celsius, so ideally you always want your meat to stay below 5 degrees until you start cooking it. As a result, the safest way to thaw meat is in the refrigerator. However, it is also safe to thaw meat with cold water, or in the microwave.
If you prepare far enough ahead of time, you can put the meat in the refrigerator. Although this will take the longest to defrost, you can leave the meat for longer and not cook it right away. For every 2 kilograms of food, the refrigerator defrost method will take about 24 hours to properly thaw.
If you thaw meat through the refrigerator method, you can leave them thawed for one to two days before you cook. While with both of the other defrost methods, you must cook the food right away. This is the only defrost method that will not put any of your food in the temperature danger zone at all. As a result your food will grow very little bacteria while it defrosts.
Cold Water Defrost
If you don’t want to microwave meats, and you don’t have the time to wait for your meat to thaw in the refrigerator, you can use cold water. Simply submerge the meat in a bath of cold water and change that water every half hour. Overall, this method will take about an hour per kilogram of food as long as you continue to change the water.
You might think it would be much quicker if you thaw the food by using hot water. However, this is dangerous. The outer portions of the meat will heat up which the middle is still frozen and they will be at a high temperature long enough for a significant amount of bacteria to grow.
The fastest way to defrost meats of any type is to use the microwave. If you are in a hurry, then this is the ideal method, but keep in mind that you have to follow directions carefully.
Set the microwave to half power (or defrost if it has a built-in option). Separate pieced meats like chicken or other poultry. Microwave until the meats are completely thawed. Cook immediately.
Note: In the microwave, the time varies a lot based on the power of your microwave and what power your defrost setting is at (it’s usually 30% of full power). In the microwave it is best to just check the meat regularly and drain any drip that comes off the meat as it defrosts as this will boil and cook the meat.
Why can’t I refreeze food?
Many people believe that you cannot refreeze food after it has thawed. This rule of thumb is mainly because refreezing food will change the texture and taste of the meat. However, there are also food safety reasons, as you shouldn’t allow food to spend more than 4 hours in the temperature danger zone and the timer doesn’t reset if you freeze the food.
The reason you must cook the food immediately when defrosting using cold water or the microwave is because both of these methods will put some of your food in the temperature danger zone and cause your food to grow bacteria.
You may have been defrosting meats in the wrong way in the past, and you may think that since you haven’t gotten ill, it must be safe. However, it only takes once for you to contract food poisoning from the bacteria in meats. Be sure to always use the safe methods: the refrigerator, the cold water bath, or the microwave.
I’d like to give a very big thank you to Mike for writing such a great article and for kindly contributing to my blog! I learned quite a few new things myself and definitely will be trying out his handy tips on defrosting food safely at home, as well as reading up on some more of his excellent articles on food safety at the Australian Institute of Food Safety. He has a whole host of interesting and very useful articles with topics such as The Ultimate Survival Guide to Food Poisoning, Food Safety for Vegetarians, How to Avoid Cross Contamination in the Kitchen and much, much more!
Mike has also kindly offered to answer any questions you may have about his article – so feel free to ask away!
I would love to hear any comments you have on storing meat or food safely at home or any other comments about food safety!
Have a fabulous week and thanks for dropping by!