Once meat is thawed, it is subject to bacterial growth. The amount of time you have to cook meat varies depending on how it was thawed. There are three ways you can safely thaw meat. If you need to thaw something quick, you can use the microwave. You can thaw meat in the refrigerator with some planning ahead. You can also thaw meat in cold water. Microwave and cold water thawing require immediate cooking and refrigerator thawing varies by a few days, depending on the type of meat.
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Meat can be safely thawed in the microwave but you should remove all plastic wrap and foam trays before beginning the defrost process. Thaw meat on low power so that the meat is heated more evenly. After thawing in the microwave, you should cook the meat immediately in case portions of the meat became too warm and begin to cook. This creates an ideal environment for the growth of bacteria, especially bacteria that was already present before the thawing process.
You can thaw meat in the refrigerator with some advanced planning because it takes some time. For example, a frozen turkey takes 24 hours to thaw for every 5 lbs. of weight. One lb. of ground meat or chicken takes 24 hours, perhaps longer if the temperature in your refrigerator is below the optimum temperature of 40 degrees F. According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, ground meat, poultry and seafood needs to be cooked within a day or two after thawing in the refrigerator. Pieces of red meat like beef steaks, lamb chops and pork chops or roasts should be cooked within three to five days of thawing. It is OK to refreeze meat without cooking that has been thawed in the refrigerator, but some quality may be jeopardized.
Cold Water Thawing
Meat can be safely thawed in cold water but never in warm water or on the countertop because the meat gets too warm, which is ideal for bacterial growth. To thaw meat in cold water, place it in a leak-proof bag, submerge it in cold water, and change the water every 30 minutes so it stays cold. According to the USDA Food and Safety Inspection Service, 1 lb. of meat could thaw in an hour; maybe less. A few pounds may thaw in two to three hours. Estimate about 30 minutes a pound for a whole chicken or turkey. Cook meat thawed in cold water immediately, even before you refreeze it.
You can cook frozen meat without thawing it if you run out of time to thaw. Plan on cooking the meat at least 50 percent longer than if it were in a thawed state.