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Defrosting Food Safely

By: Anna Hinds BA (hons) - Updated: 12 Jul 2020 | comments*Discuss
Food Safely Defrosting Food Safety Food

Defrosting food safely is essential in preventing food poisoning. Here’s our guide to safe defrosting.

How Safe Defrosting Prevents Food Poisoning

In the UK, around 80,000 people suffer from food poisoning every year (Health Protection Agency Centre for Infections, 2005). It’s caused by the presence of certain bacteria, including E.Coli, in food that has not been prepared properly. But incidence of food poisoning is decreasing – and you can take measures to stay safe at home.

When you freeze food, the bacteria inside it is rendered dormant by the cold temperature. This bacteria is destroyed in proper cooking. However, if you have not defrosted the food properly, the recommended cooking time may not be sufficient to destroy bacteria – which can result in food poisoning. Not defrosting safely is one of the main causes of food poisoning in the UK, where we depend on freezers to store many foods before cooking.

Safe Defrosting Rules

Many modern kitchens are not designed with energy efficiency in mind. Disguising your fridge behind a door or putting it under a worktop do not give the fridge sufficient ventilation, and should really be avoided if possible. If you do have the choice of where to site your new fridge (for instance if you’re redesigning the whole kitchen), try to pick a place that’s out of direct sunlight and well away from hot appliances like kettles and ovens. This isn’t always possible, but it will help.

Defrosting in the fridge is the safest option. Put the wrapped, frozen food on a shelf that’s not too crowded – or a bottom shelf for raw meat – and leave it overnight to thaw slowly.

Defrosting in a microwave will speed up the process. But be careful to ensure that the food is thoroughly thawed: turn or stir it to make sure there are no frozen bits at the bottom. When you have thawed food using a microwave’s defrost setting, you must cook it immediately afterwards. If you are defrosting small portions such as chicken breast or sausages, try putting them into a sealed bag and placing in a sink of cold water – the defrost time will speed up. When using this method, cook the thawed portions straightaway.

Discard the liquid from defrosting food – it may carry bacteria, and should be safely disposed of, and not allowed anywhere near any other foods.

Cook defrosted food immediately, or you may allow bacteria to breed inside it.

Defrosting Your Christmas Turkey

A turkey usually takes a long time to defrost – the Food Standards agency suggests that you should allow 10-12 hours per kilogram of meat. Defrosting can be done in a fridge, cool room, or garage – which is handy when your fridge is stuffed full with other things. Unwrap the turkey and take out the giblets before placing it on a large dish or tray. Cover the turkey with clean clingfilm and keep a watch on it – you will probably need to tip away the juices that seep out as the turkey defrosts. Wash your hands before and after touching the raw turkey.

The turkey’s packaging usually carries instructions for defrosting, including an estimated time-scale. Make sure the turkey is defrosted by checking for ice inside the cavity.

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I froze chicken before the use by date. Yesterday I defrosted it & left it in the fridge 24hrs, the use by date is past (7th July, it is now the 12 July). Can I still use it?
Ell_Cee - 12-Jul-20 @ 3:08 PM
I put chicken breasts in fridge to defrost last night but when I checked this morning I hadn't them fully covered? Can I still use them
Kell - 1-Apr-20 @ 8:23 AM
I'm really wanting to know what Lucinda was asking. I'm never clear on whether it's 24 hours from removing from the freezer or 24 hours from when the food defrosts.
Natty - 13-Aug-19 @ 3:45 PM
I took a raw chicken out of the freezer to defrost about 36 hours ago. It still hasn't defrosted. So when it says to defrost and use within 24 hours, does that mean 24 hours of it being out of the freezer? Or within 24 hours of it being FULLY defrosted?
Lucinda Leyshon - 12-Feb-19 @ 7:25 AM
I defrosted black forest gateaux it says consume in 24 hours still got loads left and it over 24 hours can we still eat it
Poppit - 26-Dec-18 @ 6:05 AM
My fiance went to Iceland and purchased some Slimming World Frozen meals for me. There was no room in freezer after buying too much so he out in fridge! These meals do state next to use by date to Keep Frozen... I have just noticed from in fridge 2 days later? They seem to be half defrosted.. are they safe to eat or am I best chucking them out?
Xeloisex1988x - 6-Feb-18 @ 5:03 PM
I purchased a frozen meal 24/12 (chicken curry) I was rushing and put in the fridge at home it is now 27/12 and its defrosted in fridge is it safe to eat after this time?
Nook - 27-Dec-17 @ 9:41 PM
A Dinner - Your Question:
If I defrost my raw sealed steak. Within how many days do I need to cook it?Thanks

Our Response:
If you keep it in a fridge it should be fine for up to 3 days.
StoringAndFreezing - 26-Sep-17 @ 1:00 PM
If I defrost my raw sealed steak. Within how many days do I need to cook it? Thanks
A Dinner - 25-Sep-17 @ 12:07 AM
I have cooked huge 25ltr of chlli now in the freezer. Problem - how long would it take to defrost (it wont fit in a fridge so need to use the day it has defrosted)
Just Party - 9-Jul-17 @ 6:42 AM
Helen - Your Question:
How long after defrosting pre cooked chicken, can you then safely store it in the fridge before eating it?

Our Response:
The recommendations are usually to consume within 24 hours.
StoringAndFreezing - 3-Nov-16 @ 2:40 PM
How long after defrosting pre cooked chicken, can you then safely store it in the fridge before eating it?
Helen - 3-Nov-16 @ 11:45 AM
@Pen. Depending on the type of cool bag you use, the meal should defrost fairly slowly. As long as you ensure it is piping hot when cooked, there should not be any problems.
StoringAndFreezing - 16-Mar-15 @ 2:30 PM
I collect a frozen meal from a freezer and take to work in a cool bag. It can sometimes be up to 12 hours before i remove from the cool bag and cook in the oven - how safe is this?
Pen - 13-Mar-15 @ 12:03 PM
@gigi2 yes you as long as you pack it well. See our article onfreezing cakes for information. Bring it to room temperature before eating.
StoringAndFreezing - 5-Mar-15 @ 10:24 AM
Can pineapple upside-down cake be frozen? Made with crushed pineapple, melted butter & brown sugar plus cake mix batter. If so, any special precautions or tips?? Thanks.
gigi2 - 1-Mar-15 @ 9:12 PM
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