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Preserving Perfection: Mastering the Art of Safe Food Defrosting


Frozen foods must be defrosted before cooking to ensure even heat penetration to kill foodborne pathogens. 
Defrosting is an important food safety practice. Performing this task incorrectly can lead to the growth of harmful bacteria and increase the risk of causing foodborne illnesses. Although frozen foods are generally stable, defrosting the ice build-up can expose the food to new risks. 
By following recommended guidelines, the risk of bacterial growth can be minimized. In this article, we go deeper into the approved methods for defrosting foods.

Key points covered:

  1. Safe defrosting of food combines proper food handling practices of frozen foods to minimize the risk of contamination from bacteria during thawing.
  2. The approved defrosting methods include the following: using a microwave, subjecting food under running water, and thawing inside the refrigerator.
  3. Some types of frozen food can be defrosted as part of the cooking process.
  4. Frozen foods must never be defrosted at room temperature on a kitchen sink.
  5. After refrigerator thawing, meat can generally stay safe for a maximum time of 2 days in the refrigerator compartments.
  6. The fastest way to thaw food is by using the defrost microwave setting. 
  7. Food businesses can intuitively plan and monitor thawing methods using our smart Food Safety Management System.
Learn more about how food businesses must properly defrost their frozen foods in the safest way with the following topics:


What does defrosting food safely mean?

Defrosting food safely means taking the necessary precautions to ensure that frozen food is thawed properly, minimizing the risk of foodborne illness. 


The cause of foodborne illnesses is the vitality of microorganisms in foods consumed. With proper preparation, processing, and thawing procedures these minor bacteria are being inactivated. During defrosting, any previously existing microorganisms on the food may gain strength to regrow from being inactive. You must remember that freezing only inactivates or stops the growth of harmful bacteria and does not kill them.
The general idea of defrosting food is to melt the ice as fast as possible while avoiding exposure of the food product to the temperature danger zone. This rule ensures that every part of the defrosted food is safe for consumption.
As such, the food must be properly prepared before freezing and thawed using approved methods to prevent any remaining pathogens from multiplying. Follow proper food safety guidelines for storing food in low temperatures and thawing frozen food

What are the approved methods for defrosting food safely?

Defrosting food is an essential step in food preparation. The step can affect the resulting quality and safety of defrosted foods. In terms of safety, food must be properly defrosted as the period it takes to melt the formed ice, can become an opportunity for pathogens to grow and spoil the food ingredients. 
It is always best to plan your food preparation time if you are using frozen foods. Defrosting takes time and, if rushed, will negatively affect the safety and quality of foods. 
The three approved safe defrosting methods for food are the following:
  • Defrosting food in the refrigerator
  • Defrosting in the microwave
  • Defrosting in water
Read the following sections to learn more about the approved defrosting methods.
Defrosting food in the refrigerator
The safest way to defrost foods is to put the frozen food inside the refrigerator and leave it on a defrosting tray until it completely thaws. Putting food inside the refrigerator to thaw will effectively melt the ice while preventing exposure to the temperature danger zone. This method will help minimize the risk of unwanted growth of bacteria.
The food will remain in a cold environment during the entire defrosting process. The only downside to defrosting in the refrigerator is that it takes time. That’s why you have to plan your preparation process properly. Depending on the size of the food being defrosted, the ice can melt for as long as 24 hours of defrosting time. 
When defrosting foods in a refrigerator, keep the following pointers in mind:
  • Separate the food being thawed from other foods in the refrigerator.
  • Place the food being defrosted in a catch basin or secured, leak-proof package.
  • Cover the food with plastic wrap to protect it from cross-contamination.
  • Ensure that the refrigerator temperature is consistently maintained at 40°F (4°C).

Defrosting in the microwave

There are times in the restaurant kitchen when your employees forget to plan ahead. A great alternative to safe thawing in the refrigerator is using a microwave. 
This involves using the defrost setting on a microwave to thaw frozen food in a microwave-safe container. It's important to follow the manufacturer's instructions for defrosting, as the amount of time needed will depend on the size and type of food being thawed.
However, it's important to note that microwave thawing can result in uneven thawing. Using a microwave defrosts the exposed surface area first and works its way into the core. Some manufacturers suggest changing the position of the food being defrosted to expose equal areas to heat.
Follow these tips when using a microwave to defrost foods:
  • Make sure to use the defrost setting of the microwave.
  • Immediately cook foods defrosted in the microwave.
  • Rotate and flip the food being defrosted in regular intervals.
  • If possible, cut the frozen food into smaller portions to make the process more efficient. 

Defrosting in water

An alternative method and safe option is putting the food under cold running water to melt the ice, otherwise known as the cold water method. This method offers several advantages over microwaving frozen food. 
Defrosting under a stream of water flowing on the food ensures a more even thawing without the risk of cooking the product, unlike when using a microwave. In addition, this method does not require any special equipment. All you need is a sealable plastic bag that will protect the food from having contact with water and running cold tap water.
When using this method, it is important to remember that proper handling is observed. In addition, you must be sure that your water source is clean and will not increase the risk of contamination.
Make sure to follow these steps to defrost frozen foods in the water safely:
  • Ensure that the bag you are using or the original packaging is leakproof.
  • Replace the water in your catch basin every 30 minutes.
  • Cook foods defrosted under running water immediately.
  • Ensure that the food is properly submerged in water for even defrosting. 

What is the fastest way to defrost meat?

The fastest method to defrost meat is using the microwave. This convenient option is perfect for times when you forget to defrost a particular ingredient overnight. Several, if not all, microwave models have a defrost microwave setting, which is particularly used to thaw foods fast.
As mentioned, when defrosting raw meat in a microwave, you need to be extra careful not to cook the food. Unregulated microwaving may lead to quality issues or result in unevenly defrosted meat.

Can you cook food without defrosting it?

Yes, you can cook food without defrosting it. In fact, some cooking techniques allow you to cook frozen food to achieve a particular result. This method works well for some types of meat and raw chicken.
Slow-cooking frozen foods requires strict monitoring as there is a tendency to undercook the food, especially for thicker ingredients, for food safety reasons. 
Use the following guidelines when defrosting food as part of the cooking process:
  • Ensure that the target internal temperature is achieved using a calibrated thermometer and cooking timer.
  • Adjust the cooking time and temperature according to the thickness and weight of your ingredients.
  • Follow time and safe temperature increments indicated in recipes.
  • Only use this method for foods that can thaw and cook at the same time (e.g., baked goods and meat patties)

How long can meat stay in the refrigerator after thawing?

Generally, once the frozen meat is thawed, it is safe to keep it under refrigeration for a maximum time of 2 days. Beyond this time, the risk of food contamination from dangerous bacteria or food spoilage is significantly increased. In addition, the loss of quality starts after this time period. 
This food safety rule may vary depending on the cuts of meat and its freshness. Poultry meat can generally last in the fridge for up to 2 days. On the other hand, other types of meat, such as pork, beef, and veal, can stay safe for up to 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator.
As mentioned, this estimated shelf-life can also vary depending on the freshness of foods. Use our Proper Food Storage Chart as a guide for freshly refrigerated food shelf-life, or read our detailed guidelines on how long leftovers are good for.

Why should you never defrost food at room temperature?

Defrosting food at room temperature on a kitchen counter is generally not recommended because of the potential risks it has on food safety. Health and safety agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration, explicitly advise against this practice under its Food Code
When food is defrosted at room temperature, a portion of it is exposed to the temperature range zone at some point. This is a perfect condition for bacteria and other pathogens to grow. As frozen food thaws from the outside first, the initially thawed food is exposed to the temp danger zone the longest.
This scenario increases the risk of contamination and causing foodborne illness in your customers. 

How to defrost food while ensuring food safety?

Defrosting is an integral part of food preparation for any food business. This practice requires strict monitoring and proper food handling to maintain food safety. Every mentioned safe option in this article must be properly guided by trained food handlers.
FoodDocs can help you ensure that all your foods are properly and safely defrosted all the time. Using AI-powered smart solutions from our Food Safety Management System, your food safety team can intuitively monitor defrosting food and other temperature-sensitive operations. 
Use the following benefits from our smart software:
  • Get the essential log and checklist templates for monitoring conditions during the defrosting process. Using AI solutions, our system automatically generates the customizable logs and checklists you need.
    • Fridge temperature log

Fridge temperature log from the FoodDocs software

    • Thermometer calibration log
Calibration log in FoodDocs

Thermometer calibration log from the FoodDocs software


  • Employee hygiene checklist
All monitoring logs are equipped with educative instructions to guide food handlers on how to properly read temperature - a critical process of monitoring defrosting methods. You can also upload your own versions of video or image instructions through the desktop app.
  • As time and advance planning are always critical when defrosting, use our Food Safety App's smart notification system to remind food handlers of important tasks to complete the thawing process. With this feature, you can ensure that you will always be able to defrost food on time.
Our smart Food Safety Management System also provides features that can help you verify tasks and improve your efficiency.
  • Use our system's real-time dashboard that gives you a quick overview of your entire food safety operation status. This dashboard shows you tasks, such as completing defrosting steps properly, and saves you time from manually verifying them.
  • Store and organize all food safety logs and checks in location. Save all defrosting logs in our cloud storage and access them easily in case of an inspection.
With our system's smart solutions, you will not have to worry if tasks are being done on time and correctly. Using advanced technology, we can help you streamline critical tasks, such as defrosting foods.
Ensure that your food business is equipped with the necessary tools for food safety and goes beyond the normal with our smart solutions. 
In just a matter of 15 minutes, you can easily switch to our digital platform. Start your food safety journey with our free 14-day trial today. 


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