How To Defrost Frozen Foods

Never defrost foods on a kitchen counter. There are three safe ways to defrost food: in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave.

  • The refrigerator: It's best to plan ahead for slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator. This is because the refrigerator provides a controlled environment that ensures thawing food won't reach a temperature greater than 40°F, the point at which bacteria multiply. Small items may defrost overnight, though most foods require a day or two. Very large items such as turkeys may take longer, approximately one day for each 5 pounds of weight.
  • Cold water: For faster defrosting, place food in a leak-proof plastic bag and immerse it in cold water. Check the water frequently to ensure it stays cold. Change the water every 30 minutes. After thawing, cook or serve the food immediately.
  • Microwave oven: When defrosting food in the microwave, plan to cook it immediately after thawing. This is because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving.

USDA Fact Sheets "Safe Food Handling"


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