Consumer Reports

How to Safely Thaw Frozen Foods

Consumer Reports looks at how you can safely thaw your food and avoid getting sick

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Many folks are planning end-of-summer barbecues, albeit smaller ones because of the pandemic.

A smart start: Plan your meal now while thinking about food safety. For example, thawing burgers the wrong way could make you sick, and nothing ruins a party faster than food poisoning.

First of all, you should never leave food out on a counter to thaw, nor should you run it under hot water. Those methods can allow parts of the food to reach temperatures above 40 degrees, which enables bacteria to multiply quickly and may lead to foodborne illness.

The safest way to thaw food is always in the refrigerator, because it will maintain a safe temperature, below 40 degrees. But that means planning, however. The larger the item, the more time it needs to thaw. A pound of frozen ground beef or boneless chicken takes a full day.

After thawing, poultry and seafood remain safe in the fridge for a day or two, while red meats are safe three to five days after thawing, so you’ve got some time before you have to cook.

If you need dinner on the table faster, cold-water thawing can speed things up. You should put frozen food like raw meat in a leakproof plastic bag and place it in a bowl of cold tap water. For larger cuts of meat, you’ll want to change the water every 30 minutes. It should take about an hour to thaw a pound of meat. Once fully thawed, cook immediately.

If you need to defrost food even faster, there’s a “thaw” setting on your microwave. But CR says portions of the food may begin to cook during this cycle, encouraging bacterial growth. So foods thawed in a microwave should be cooked immediately.

In addition to thawing meat safely, you should be sure to cook it safely as well. A meat thermometer can help ensure that food has been cooked to a safe internal temperature and killed any bacteria that may be present.

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