Safely Defrosting Meat

Category Meat
Keeping meat in the safe temperature zone is important to retain its freshness. This page is about safely defrosting meat.


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January 31, 2005

A hair dryer is a great aid in defrosting your frozen meats.

By Robin

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April 21, 2005

It's easy to thaw meat in the microwave, but it's just as easy to place it on a refrigerator shelf overnight. It thaws by dinner time the next day, and I don't have to use any electricity to do it. A little planning ahead is all it takes.

By zballoongirl

Editor's Note: I have never been happy with how my microwave thaws meat. It always seems to thaw it unevenly, so I agree with this tip wholeheartedly.

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April 25, 2005

Uh, oh! You're home and forgot to defrost something for dinner. You grab a package of meat or chicken and use hot water to thaw it fast. But is this safe? What if you remembered to take food out of the freezer, but forgot and left the package on the counter all day while you were at work?


Neither of these situations are safe, and these methods of thawing lead to foodborne illness. Food must be kept at a safe temperature during "the big thaw." Foods are safe indefinitely while frozen. However, as soon as food begins to defrost and become warmer than 40 degrees F, any bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to multiply.

"Foods should never be thawed or even stored on the counter, or defrosted in hot water. Food left above 40 degrees F (unrefrigerated) is not at a safe temperature," cautions Bessie Berry, manager of the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline.

Even though the center of the package may still be frozen as it thaws on the counter, the outer layer of the food is in the "Danger Zone," between 40 and 140°F – at temperatures where bacteria multiply rapidly.


"When defrosting frozen foods, it's best to plan ahead and thaw food in the refrigerator where food will remain at a safe, constant temperature -- 40 degrees F or below," recommends Berry.

There are three safe ways to defrost food: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave.

Refrigerator Thawing
Planning ahead is the key to this method because of the lengthy time involved. 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.

After thawing in the refrigerator, ground meat and poultry should remain useable for an additional day or two before cooking; red meat, 3 to 5 days. Foods defrosted in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking, although there may be some loss of quality.

Cold Water Thawing
This method is faster than refrigerator thawing but requires more attention. 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.

The bag should be submerged in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes so it continues to thaw. Small packages of meat or poultry – about a pound – may defrost in an hour or less. A 3- to 4-pound package may take 2 to 3 hours. For whole turkeys, estimate about 30 minutes per pound. If thawed completely, the food must be cooked immediately. Foods thawed by the cold water method should be cooked before refreezing.

Microwave Thawing
When microwave defrosting food, plan to cook it immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during microwave defrosting. 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.

Foods thawed in the microwave should be cooked before refreezing.

February 2003

Source: USDA

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January 15, 2005

When defrosting beef, or chicken in the microwave, use one of those plates that are used to cook bacon on (for the microwave). As you defrost the beef or chicken the juices go into the little wells and make less of a mess than a plate would make.

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May 16, 2010

I accidentally started to defrost spare ribs on the counter and they sat out about 5 hours. They were still partially frozen when discovered. Are they OK to use?


By katie from Chicago, IL


May 16, 20100 found this helpful

I have always heard that partially frozen meat is OK, even for refreezing.

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May 16, 20100 found this helpful

Yes, they're fine. Obviously if you're not going to cook them now put them in the fridge.

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May 16, 20100 found this helpful

Probably not..check this out:

Even though the center of the meat may still be cold, the outer layers likely are warmer after five hours than the 40 degrees or below the meat needs to be so bacteria don't go hog-wild.

Partially frozen meat is ok to refreeze--but only if it's been under refrigeration the whole time.

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May 18, 20100 found this helpful

No. If it is over the absolute 2 hour rule, out of fridge after being cooked, think of how quickly the bacteria/Ecoli, etc. only needs a little time for encouragement to become full blown. It is not within the safety of your own life to chance it. Look at the lawsuits in our world due to unsafe food. Don't do it in your own kitchen. Cargill just settled a case here in Minnesota because of the bacteria in the meat, the young gal is paralyzed for life. The bacteria ravaged through her body. She will never be able to do anything on her own again.

Refreezing: if you have a frozen meat out for a short time, like less than an hour it can be put back. Always thaw in the fridge. I take a couple days of meats out at the same time, put into Tupperware, on a plate, etc. so the juices don't touch anything.

My mother would tell you go to ahead and eat it, but then my mother 'is always sick to her stomach from something. The flu, when I tell her it must be something she ate. Drastically said: Better safe than dead.

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May 18, 20100 found this helpful

You mean there is another way to defrost meat? Just kidding, but if that would be harmful, my family would have been dead long ago.

I've been cooking 40 years, so far, no one has gotten sick. Take care and good luck.

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April 2, 20110 found this helpful

No when this happens you can cook the meat then put it in the freezer for another time. It is a law of averages thing. Most of the time it might be alright but there is that chance someone will get sick. Never take a chance with food. There are enough problems with our food as it is.

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January 7, 2010

Is it safe to freeze meats in the Styrofoam tray that comes from the supermarket? Or should the meat be removed from the tray and frozen in a Ziplock bag or foil?



January 7, 20100 found this helpful

I used to do it once in a while when I was lazy. Then I heard it wasn't good to do it so I stopped. I thought they said it dried out or got freezer burn faster with the foam tray but I dont really remember. Usually meat that is wrapped on those trays have pockets of air under the wrap anyway so it is best to transfer it.

I just did a quick search and it said if you planned on using the meat within a month it was OK to freeze on the tray but otherwise not to. And if you do freeze it as is from the store you still need to wrap over it as the store wrap isn't enough for the freezer.

Repackaging off of the tray also helps to divide into more usable portions and making flatter packages that stack in the freezer and ones that will thaw quicker in the fridge.

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January 9, 20100 found this helpful

I usually take and leave as is and put in freezer if I know I will be using it in a day or two. If it will be longer then I leave as is and wrap it in heavy duty tin foil. But as I have gotten older I like my meat straight from the store and fix it then. It helps to have a son who is a meat cutter so my meat comes from him!

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January 10, 20100 found this helpful

I like to buy meat in large packages and freeze it in portion sizes. I wrap it in plastic wrap and then freezer paper. The plastic wrap helps keep it from getting freezer burn and also from "bleeding" as it thaws, and the freezer paper is another layer too keep air and water crystals out. Plus you can write in it with a permanent marker. I like to record what it is (chicken thighs, etc), how much (2 lbs.), and when I packaged it (month and year), to make sure nothing is left in the freezer too long. Most meat is good for a year.

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February 26, 2005

Tips for thawing meat. Post your ideas.


February 26, 20050 found this helpful

When I thaw out meat I put it in a plastic grocery bag and then on a plate. That way if it leaks out of the package it doesn't get all over my fridge!

By Michelle Draveski

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By Barbie (Guest Post)
February 26, 20050 found this helpful

I always seem to forget to take something out for dinner......I often use the electic burners on my stove.....OFF of course....they draw the cold from the meat and they thaw pretty fast...I usually get home from work between 2 and 3 so if I place the sealed package of steak or what have you on the burner they thaw just enough to be cooked around 5 when my husband gets home....and cheaper than a "thawing pan".......

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February 26, 20050 found this helpful

If I forget til last mo to pull something out, I drop it ina sink of water and keep changing water til it thaws. I use warm or hot water tho you aren't sposed to!

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