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Volume II
January 9, 2007

Safe Thawing
By Amy Hunt

Food must be kept at a safe temperature during defrosting. Foods are safe indefinitely while frozen; however, as soon as food begins to defrost and become warmer than 40F, any bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to multiply. Never thaw food at room temperature or in warm water. Even though the center of a package may still be frozen as it thaws on the counter or in the warm water, the outer layer of the food is in the "Danger Zone," between 40 and 140F. These are temperatures where bacteria multiply rapidly.

Thaw food in the refrigerator at 40F or less, in cold running water less than 70F, or in the microwave if you'll be cooking or serving it immediately.

Thawing in the refrigerator takes the longest time and advance planning. A large frozen item like a turkey requires at least a day (24 hours) for every 5 pounds of weight. Even small amounts of frozen food -- such as a pound of ground meat or boneless chicken breasts -- require a full day to thaw. When thawing foods in the refrigerator, there are several variables to take into account:

  • Some areas of an appliance may keep the food colder than other areas. Food placed in the coldest part will require longer defrosting time.
  • Food takes longer to thaw in a refrigerator set at 35F than one set at 40F.
Thawing in cold water requires less time but more attention than thawing in the refrigerator. This should only be used if the water is kept cold (less than 70F) and the food will thaw in under 2 hours. The food must be in a leak-proof package or plastic bag. If the bag leaks, bacteria from the air or surrounding environment could be introduced into the food. Also, meat tissue can also absorb water like a sponge, resulting in a watery product. As an alternative to constantly running water, the bag of food could be submerged in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes as the food continues to thaw.

Thawing in the microwave oven produces some uneven heating patterns. Some parts of a food may actually start to cook before other sections completely thaw. Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present wouldn't have been destroyed and, indeed, may have reached optimal temperatures for bacteria to grow. Use the microwave when the food will be cooked immediately after thawing, or for thawing ready-to-eat fruits immediately before serving.

If you have any additional tips that you'd like to add, please post them on the Cook'n Club Forum (if you're a Cook'n Club Member)...or e-mail them to

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