Defrosting safely seems a little out of date in the 21st century given all the food safety steps between farm, supermarket and home. Our homes are generally climate controlled and, our refrigerators are plugged into consistently reliable power supplies that keep food from spoiling. But, it’s when we pop food into a freezer for later, that’s where the trouble starts. You really must be careful and present to the dangers inherent in improperly defrosted food.
Bacteria present on the surface of meat prior to freezing can multiply if improperly defrosted and can ultimately lead to spoilage and even food poisoning. As well, food that has not been fully defrosted can cook unevenly leaving parts of it below the safe final temperature needed before harmful bacteria present in the food has been eliminated and food is safe to eat.
There are three ways to safely defrost food. First, it’s best to defrost food in the refrigerator. Most freezers are set to 0 Farenheit to ensure consistent freezing. Your fridge is typically set at 40 Farenheit. So, moving food from your freezer to your fridge is moving it from a colder to a warmer environment. A typical rule of thumb is that 24 hours in your fridge is enough time to adequately defrost steaks, chicken breasts, pork chops, all of the usual suspects. If you’re defrosting something like a whole chicken, a turkey or a roast, then give it 24 hours per 5 pounds (2.5 kg) of meat. It works really well but, you’ve got to plan ahead.
The second most reliable approach is to use your microwave, especially if it has a defrost setting letting you enter in type of meat and weight before starting. This typically adjusts the power downward and can be very accurate. But, it should only be used if you plan to cook the meat right away. And, you have to keep an eye on it. If I had a nickle for every time I’ve overdone it and partially cooked the meat I could eat dinner out instead of cooking it myself.
It’s also important to use a microwave safe container when defrosting. Don’t leave chicken, beef or pork in the polystyrene tray its sold in. Remove any plastic wrap that’s touching the meat and don’t defrost foods in the microwave that are stored or sold in cardboard containers.
Third, anything in leak proof packaging can be defrosted under running tap water or submerged under cold water in the sink. The packaging really needs to be leak proof though and, your sink needs to sanitized. And, change the water every 30 minutes until the meat is fully defrosted.
One final note: anything that had been defrosted and allowed to reach room temperature must be cooked right away. It cannot be safely refrozen. If you have defrosted something in the fridge, it’s okay to refreeze if you change your mind about cooking it.
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