Thawing foods improperly could lead to food poisoning. The time and temperature both play significant roles in creating a safe way to thaw food. The United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service lists three safe methods for thawing foods, and one way that should never be used. Avoiding this method and replacing it with safer thawing options will reduce the chances of bacteria proliferating in the food.

Why Thawing Matters

Thawing ensures that the food will evenly cook in a shorter amount of time. Frozen foods take up to 1.5 times longer to cook than thawed foods, according to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. After thawing, the food must be cooked thoroughly before refreezing. Never refreeze thawed foods unless the item was a commercially frozen product that remained unopened.

Method to Never Use

The counter is the worst possible place for thawing foods. The food sits for several hours at room temperature. This puts the food’s internal temperature into a dangerous range in which bacteria can multiply for longer than two hours. Thawing raw meat on the counter also can increase the chance of cross contamination from juices leaking out of the package onto the counter. If you use that same surface to cut fresh foods without thoroughly disinfecting it, you put yourself and your family at risk for food poisoning.

Microwave with Caution

If done properly, the microwave is one of the fastest ways to thaw foods, but the quality of the food can suffer. Microwaving heats foods unevenly. Foods defrosted with this method could have some portions that are partially cooked and other parts that are still frozen. To avoid food poisoning, always thoroughly cook foods immediately after thawing them in the microwave. This method becomes unsafe if you let the food thawed in the microwave sit for several hours without cooking it or if you refreeze it.

Safest Methods

For the safest thawing of foods, place the frozen food for up to two days in the refrigerator inside a container on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator. The container catches any juices that might leak out of the package, and putting the frozen food on the bottom shelf keeps it from contaminating any foods on a shelf underneath it. For faster thawing than the refrigerator, thaw foods sealed in a plastic bag in a bucket of cold water. Change the cold water every 30 minutes. As with microwave thawing, foods thawed in cold water must be cooked immediately.