Although it might be common practice, defrosting meat at room temperature can lead bacterial growth. There are three ways you can safely thaw meat, and the amount of time you have to cook meat varies depending on how it was thawed.
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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, according to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.
The amount of time that food is safe after thawing varies by the method used to thaw it. Microwave and cold-water thawing require immediate cooking, while thawing in the fridge can buy you a few days.
Save Time With the Microwave
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 become too warm and begin to cook, according to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.
This creates an ideal environment for the growth of bacteria, especially bacteria that was already present before the thawing process. Foodborne illness, such as salmonella infection, can occur from consumption of meat that is contaminated with bacteria, according to Mayo Clinic.
Read more: 5 Healthy Red Meat Recipes That Satisfy
Use the Fridge
You can thaw meat in the refrigerator with some advance planning because it takes some time. For example, a frozen turkey takes 24 hours to thaw for every 5 pounds of weight. One pound of ground meat or chicken takes 24 hours, perhaps longer if the temperature in your refrigerator is below the optimum temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, ground meat, poultry and seafood need 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's OK to refreeze meat without cooking if it's been thawed in the refrigerator, but some quality may be jeopardized.
Try 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. Thawing in hot water can begin to cook your meat.
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, explains the University of Illinois Extension. 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.