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food safety

Guest Post: Mike Stewart on Thawing Meat Safely

Guest Posts February 25, 2013

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!

Mike Stewart
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!

Thawing Meat

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.

Refrigerator Defrost

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.

Microwave Defrost

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!

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Meat Storage Safety

Articles February 11, 2013

While I have been trying to cut down on my meat consumption lately, I still do enjoy making a few of my fave meat dishes at home each week. In an effort to save time and money, I have also been attempting to plan all my meals in advance, so I only need to go food shopping one or two times a week as necessary. Planning my meals in advance usually means they’ll be a bit healthier as well, as it cuts down on the last minute takeaways I end up buying when I haven’t organised myself properly. Planning and shopping in this way takes a bit of time but I reckon it’s so worth it – and I’ve definitely noticed a reduction in the amount of money I’ll spend on food weekly. I’m saving like a crazy lady for my trip to Singapore/Japan in just under two months and this is definitely giving me a helping hand!

One thing that has kind of been a bit of a dent in my planning at the moment is how long to store meat in the fridge. Since I don’t like going to the shops more than a week – I often struggle with how long I should be keeping fresh, uncooked meat in the fridge and Google hasn’t been a big help.

From my high school years, our food-tech teacher put the fear of God in her students in regards to cooking chicken safely. We watched several videos on the evils of salmonella and about how important it is to defrost your chicken or store raw chicken before cooking. However I didn’t really learn much about how *long* we should be keeping things and when I want to plan to cook specific recipes and buy ahead of time, its a bit difficult to know when to use up the meat, or how long it should be staying in the fridge before bacteria develops and is no longer safe to eat.

Prior to this, I kind of tried to keep to a 2-3 day rule to raw meat in the fridge, or to whatever end-dates were listed on packaged meat I would buy from Coles, etc. to help guide me. However this year I’ve resolved to buy more of my produce from better markets (i.e. Harris Farm Markets) rather than Coles as it seems that the fruit, veg and meat is not only cheaper from there, but also a great deal better in quality and freshness and have thus reduced my visits to regular supermarkets as of late – which means no more clearly labeled meat products.

On a recent visit to Harris Farm Markets butcher, I asked the butcher who served me for some tips on how long I could keep fresh meat at home in the fridge. What he told me I found quite surprising.

He advised that:

  • You should only store fresh meat for just 1 day in the fridge before you plan to cook it. If you intend to cook your meat longer than this, you should put it in the freezer as soon as you get home.
  • If you are planning to store your meat in the fridge for that one day, it needs to be removed from the plastic from the store and placed on a plate and covered with foil, rather than plastic (I’m not sure why he mentioned foil rather than plastic – do you know why this is? I assumed it would be cling wrap, but he corrected me by saying that you should use foil instead). If you intend to freeze your meat straight away, it is fine however to keep it in the plastic it came in.

Here I had some lovely beef ribs to be cooked the next day, so I removed them from the plastic, popped them on a plate, covered them with foil and put them in the fridge.

The butcher also said that the reasoning for keeping the meat in your fridge for only one day is because conventional home fridges do not run as cold as professional butcher’s fridges. Butchers’ usually run their fridges from 0-1 degrees, which allows them to keep the meat for much longer than 1 day. But in order to keep your meat free from bacteria at home, it only really can safely last for about 1 day in conventional fridges. When I asked if the one-day rule applies to all kinds of meats (i.e. beef, pork, chicken), he said that he would indeed apply this rule to all meats.

I was really surprised with this advice that he gave me (although I intend to follow it from now on!) as it’s completely the opposite of what I would normally do. I usually buy packaged meats and just leave them in the fridge for 2-3 days (usually shorter for chicken, but sometimes longer for beef) but had no idea that I shouldn’t be leaving them for more than 1 day.

It made me wonder a bit about the chicken I would normally buy from Coles as it often has a use-by date up to a week after I’ve bought it. Does this mean that they’ve put some sort of preservatives or etc into the chicken to make it last longer? I really don’t know, but if it is, I imagine that’s not really something I’d like to have in my food!

If I’m to be completely honest too, I actually quite dislike freezing meat. I often find that when it defrosts, it comes out slimey and smells strange… Mind you, this has only happened a handful of times. Am I freezing my meat incorrectly perhaps? I have had much more success in freezing cooked meats in the past, however but have really only tried that with beef mince, but not cooked chicken, etc.

So readers, do you have any tips on meat safety at home? Do you freeze raw meat and what sorts of results do you get with that? How about freezing cooked meats? How do you find the texture of frozen meat (cooked or uncooked) after it’s been defrosted ?I’m also curious about whether this same rule applies to fish and/or smoked fish meat. I would love to hear all about what sorts of things you normally do!

As luck would have it, just prior to posting this article, I was contacted by Mike Stewart, a writer and Editor in Chief for Australian Food Safety News who told me he’d be happy to answer any food safety questions you might have so please ask away and Mike choose a few to answer that I will post on the blog!

Hope you had a great weekend!