Skip to main content

How to Defrost Food Safely

Thawing frozen food on the countertop or in warm water may put your family at risk from food-borne bacteria. Keep them safe by following these methods.


  • Step 1: Know the dangers Keep food out of "the danger zone" – between 40 and 140 degrees. Freezing stops bacteria from growing but does not kill it. As soon as frozen food reaches 40 degrees, harmful bacteria can multiply.
  • TIP: Defrosting in the refrigerator is the safest method because it keeps food below 40 degrees.
  • Step 2: Plan ahead To defrost in the fridge, allow one full day for every five pounds for large items like a turkey or roast. You'll need a full 24 hours for anything under five pounds, such as a package of ground beef or chicken breasts.
  • Step 3: Know your refrigerator Keep in mind that some areas inside your refrigerator are colder than others. Allow more time for items placed in the colder regions.
  • TIP: After thawing in the fridge, cook ground meats and poultry within a day and red meat within three days. Once thawed, they should not be refrozen.
  • Step 4: Seal well for cold water defrosting If time is short, defrost in a cold water bath. Seal anything that's not in watertight packaging in a leak-proof, plastic bag. Fully submerge the item in cold water.
  • Step 5: Change the water Replace the cold water every half hour. Allow an hour per pound for packages up to three pounds and 30 minutes per pound for larger items.
  • TIP: Food thawed in cold water or in a microwave must be cooked immediately and cannot be refrozen.
  • Step 6: Unwrap before microwaving To defrost in a microwave, remove food from its packaging first. Foam trays and liners can melt in a microwave and leach chemicals into the food. Place the food on a microwavable dish.
  • Step 7: Run at half power Run the microwave at 50 percent power or on the defrost setting. Allow about 10 minutes per pound for frozen meats.
  • Step 8: Stop and rearrange Stop the microwave several times to pull apart frozen-together pieces. Break up and turn over ground meats. Start large, solid items, such as chicken, upside down, and turn them over halfway through.
  • FACT: Did you know? Prepackaged frozen foods were first sold to the public in 1930.

You Will Need

  • Frozen food
  • A refrigerator
  • cold water bath
  • or microwave

Popular Categories