Freezing is the best way to keep meat fresh for longer, but harmful bacteria can grow in food that is not thawed properly.
The absolute best way to defrost frozen meat is to leave it in the fridge until it’s completely thawed (however, it does take some planning ahead), Rachel Scoular ADP Dietitian and Nutritionist, founder of Instagram page Healthyhappyhabits explains.
“Undoubtedly, this is the safest option,” she says. Why? Because it keeps the food out of the ‘danger zone’ — temperatures between 5°C and 60°C (where bacteria multiplies rapidly).
“Simply ensure your fridge is set to 4°C or lower,” says Scoular, who also advises defrosting the meat on the lowest shelf to prevent juices from dripping.
If you’re pressed for time, a microwave can be a defrosting saviour, but it needs to be done the right way.
“The main thing to note is heat isn’t distributed evenly, so ensure the meat is well separated and in reasonably small pieces,” she says. And as soon as you’re done thawing, start cooking, Scoular advises.
Thawing meat in water is fast, but is it safe?
“Technically speaking, it can be a safe method, when performed correctly,” she says. But in the process, bacteria can be spread onto the sink (and potentially other surfaces), which could put households at risk of food poisoning.
While it may be tempting to leave frozen food out to thaw — don’t do it, even if it’s a cold day. “When defrosting on a kitchen bench or in an open area, the meat will be within the temperature danger zone and be unsafe for consumption,” she says. The fastest rate of growth for bacteria is 37°C.
Alternatively, some pre-made and packaged items such as burger patties and chicken nuggets are able to be cooked from frozen. “As these are cooked in microwaves or ovens, the heat exceeds 60°C, making it safe for consumption,” Scoular says.
If you’re unsure, it’s best to always plan ahead to avoid food poisoning.