Thawing Food Safely

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Thawing food safely

DO NOT thaw perishable foods at room temperature. Just ONE bacterium, doubling every 20 minutes, could grow to 64 bacteria in two hours, and 2,097,152 bacteria in seven hours!

If perishable foods, such as meat, are left at room temperature too long, bacteria may grow and produce heat-resistant toxins that can cause food-borne illness. Cooking may not be able to destroy these toxins.

  • It’s best to plan ahead for slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator. Small items may thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Larger foods may take longer—allow approximately one day for each 5 pounds of weight.
  • Thaw packages of raw meat, poultry, or seafood on plates on lower shelves of refrigerators to prevent their juices from dripping on other foods.
  • For faster thawing, place food in a leak-proof plastic bag and immerse bag in COLD water. Change the water every 30 minutes to assure it stays cold. DO NOT use hot water. After thawing, refrigerate the food until ready to use. Food thaws in cold water at the rate of approximately a pound per half hour.
  • If food is thawed in the microwave, cook it right away. Unlike food thawed in a refrigerator, microwave-thawed foods reach temperatures that encourage bacterial growth. Cook immediately to kill any bacteria that may have developed and to prevent further bacterial growth.

If thawing in a plastic freezer bag in the microwave, follow manufacturer’s directions for such things as venting, recommended heat settings, types of food suitable for microwave-thawing, etc. for that specific bag.

Follow microwave manufacturer’s directions for your specific microwave.


This material was funded by USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – SNAP. This institution is an equal opportunity provider.