Food safety

Which is an approved method of thawing frozen food?

Thawing requires adequate time and planning to protect the food from spoilage hazards.

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Thawing requires adequate time and planning to protect the food from spoilage hazards.

  • Frozen foods must be thawed to ensure that the cooking process is effective.
  • Proper thawing requires monitoring to prevent high-risk foods from being exposed to the temperature danger zone.
  • Use FoodDocs' digital Food Safety Management System to help food handlers remember important food safety tasks, including food thawing.

Freezing foods is a very effective way to significantly extend the shelf-life of foods during storage. An operation that inevitably goes together with freezing is the thawing process. It is almost impossible for food handlers to use frozen foods to prepare dishes. The unmanageable state of frozen foods requires thawing to make critical operations, such as cooking, effective. Although, thawing presents an opportunity for harmful bacteria and other pathogens to recover and spoil the food. Food handlers must learn which is an approved method of thawing frozen food.

In this article, learn which methods are approved for thawing foods and expose common myths.



What is food thawing?

Food thawing refers to the process of melting the ice crystals formed on food as a result of freezing. This operation requires higher temperatures to reverse the effects of freezing foods. Thawing is performed prior to cooking foods to make the cooking method effective. 

Skipping the thawing process can lead to ineffective cooking, such as the center of the food not reaching the internal target temperature. This point can then result in the growth of bacteria and harm customers.


How to thaw frozen food?

The main objective of thawing food is to melt the formed ice from freezing. Melting ice is done by placing the food at a higher temperature than the freezing point of water, which is 32°F (0°C). Because the rate of thawing ice is not equal throughout the food surface, some parts will thaw first before the rest. This point is an opportunity for foodborne bacteria to contaminate and spoil the food.

As such, thawing must be done in the fastest way possible or at a safe temperature using the correct equipment. Food handlers must always ensure that no part of the food will stay within the temperature danger zone for a prolonged period. This means that it is not advisable to leave frozen food at the counter or food preparation sink to thaw.

In addition to the surrounding temperature, time is also an important factor when thawing foods. Food handlers are always advised to thaw foods ahead of time inside a refrigerator, which is one of the safest methods for thawing. Rushing the process by cooking partially thawed food may cause uneven cooking and increase the risk of causing foodborne illness.

While cooking frozen foods is possible, the parameters for safe cooking will significantly vary. The food must be cooked more slowly and longer.


thawing food methods poster

Proper thawing methods in the kitchen


Which is an approved method of thawing frozen food?

Food safety agencies suggest three safe methods for thawing foods: inside the refrigerator, using a microwave, and in cold water. These methods all have a precise combination of temperature control and thawing time. Their main safety control is that neither of the three methods will allow the food to stay in the temperature danger zone for more than two hours.

Below, we explain the three approved methods for thawing frozen foods:


In the refrigerator

Thawing inside the refrigerator presents the safest way to defrost frozen food. Although, you will need to plan ahead to ensure successful thawing inside the refrigerator. This method is recommended for thawing perishable foods such as raw meat and poultry.

Food handlers must estimate how long it would take to thaw foods at refrigerated temperatures. Some foods, especially large cuts of meat or blocks of food, will require 24 hours. Although you are raising the internal temperature of the food being thawed, the final target temperature, which is 40°F (4°C), is still considered safe. 

Thawing food inside the refrigerator offers many advantages over other methods. This process can retain the freshness of thawed foods for more than a day, assuming it was not taken out after thawing. Additionally, foods thawed inside a refrigerator can be refrozen without the risk of contamination by bacteria and food spoilage.

Ensure that the constant temperature of your refrigerator is consistently maintained for food safety. Use our temperature log sheet to record your fridge temperature reading.


thawing food in the refigerator


In cold water

If in case you need a faster and safe defrosting method, then you can thaw foods in cold water. Unlike thawing foods inside the refrigerator, submerging the food product in cold potable water allows for faster temperature change as the water coats the entire food.

Although, the cold water thawing method requires a lot of attention and a few things to consider:

  • The food must be contained in a leak-proof bag. This will prevent the cold tap water from coming in direct contact with the food, which can contaminate it.
  • The water must be cold and changed every 30 minutes. Once the tap water becomes at an equal temperature with the food, thawing will become slower.
  • Bigger chunks or cuts of food will take more time to thaw.
  • Thawed foods in cold water must be immediately cooked to prevent spoilage.

An alternative thawing process to submerging the contained food in cold water is thawing under cool running water. The process is quite similar. The food must be sealed in a leak-proof package and placed in a strainer or colander to hold the food item.

The disadvantage of using cold running water is that it is economically not sound and wasteful. Additionally, the bag is more prone to holes or openings if it is subjected to a continuously running flow of water.


In the microwave

Thawing foods using the microwave at defrost setting yields fast but uneven results. Especially when the frozen food has an irregular shape, the microwave will not be able to apply heat evenly. Some parts may thaw faster than others, risking the thawed parts being cooked with further microwaving.

Microwave-thawed foods are recommended to be immediately cooked. Some parts of the thawed food will be exposed to the temperature danger zone, and potentially contaminating pathogens must be immediately eliminated.

Microwave thawing foods is recommended in case you are in a rush. Exercise caution by monitoring the food being thawed.


thawing food in the microwave


As part of the cooking process

Some types of food can be thawed as they cook. The best example of this is cooking burger patties and french fries. Because these foods are relatively thin, they can be evenly cooked. 

This method is also advisable for foods that may lose shape once thawed. Cooking this type of food while thawing allows the outer surface to cook and solidify while the inside slowly reaches the correct temperature.


How you should never thaw food?

If you are in a hurry because you forgot to thaw your frozen common meat the day before preparing it, you may become very tempted to leave the food on the kitchen counter surfaces to thaw faster. While this process is undeniably faster and a more convenient method than thawing inside the refrigerator, it is not a safe method. You should never thaw food by leaving it on the countertop at room temperature.

At room or ambient air temperature and as the food thaws, parts of the food that have already thawed are basically exposed to the danger zone temperature range. At this point, any present foodborne illness-causing bacteria can further divide and spoil the foods faster before you can even cook the food. 


thawing turkey


Which is the proper thawing procedure for frozen food?

Choosing whether to thaw your foods inside the refrigerator, submerge them in cold water, or use a microwave oven will depend on different factors. Some critical factors to consider will include time, the type of food, and the size of the food.

The best method when you have the time and plan ahead is to thaw foods inside the refrigerator. This process is the safest and guarantees no contamination from the process. Bigger cuts of meat or food require around 24 hours to thaw. Cuts of frozen chicken breasts will thaw faster than a whole turkey. Thawing inside the refrigerator also requires less monitoring, given that the refrigerator is working properly.

If you are in a hurry and the food is not very big or portioned, you can use the microwave with a built-in defrost setting. This process is convenient for small containers of food.

For example, if you are thawing a turkey and you need it as soon as possible, you can put the food in a large leak-proof bag and submerge it in water. This process requires attention as the water needs to be changed at least every 30 minutes.


Why should you rotate food while thawing it?

While thawing food inside the refrigerator may require less attention, microwaving or submerging it in water requires otherwise. One particular operation that you need to do is to rotate the food during thawing.

When using a microwave, rotating the food exposes all surfaces to heat. The surface facing down on the plate is less likely to receive heat and will not thaw properly. Rotating the food also prevents the melted ice from gathering at the bottom, which can make the food soggy.

When thawing foods by submerging the food in water, rotating the food inside a leak-proof bag is necessary when you cannot hold down the food. Often, this is the case when the food is very buoyant and floats. 


Can you refreeze food after thawing?

The safety of refreezing previously thawed foods depends on your thawing method. Foods thawed inside the refrigerator are safe to refreeze even without subjecting them to any cooking method. These foods were not exposed to the danger zone.

On the other hand, foods thawed in water or using the microwave must first be cooked before refreezing. This process is done to ensure that there are no surviving pathogens that will spoil the food between the time of placing it inside the freezer and freezing.

On the quality side, refreezing foods will cause nutritional and texture changes. Freezing can damage the tissues of food, especially fruits and vegetables, and can make them limp when thawed.


Can you refreeze meat after thawing?

The safety of refreezing thawed meat depends on the thawing procedure used. It is safe to refreeze meat that has been thawed in the freezer. On the other hand, thawing meat in the microwave is not safe and can cause food spoilage during refreezing.

Refreezing meat is often discouraged in terms of quality as the color, flavor, and texture change when refrozen. The nutritional content of the meat is also altered when refrozen.


What foods can be cooked without thawing? 

There are some types of food that you can cook even when they are in a frozen state. Usually, this is done to hold the shape of the food by simultaneously thawing the ice and solidifying the structure of the food.

Most foods that can be cooked while frozen are thin or small. This allows the heat to evenly penetrate the food and cook it. Some of the foods that are safe to cook without thawing include:

  • Burger patties
  • Fries
  • Dumplings
  • Baked products (e.g., pies and cookies)
  • Minced meat
  • Raw fish

What you need to remember is that cooking foods without thawing will require a lower heat temperature to prevent case hardening. Case hardening is the rapid solidification of the outer layer of the food as a result of heat shock, which will prevent the interior from cooking.

Constant monitoring and focus must be practiced when cooking frozen foods without thawing.


The biggest mistakes and myths about thawing food

While freezing is an effective way to extend the shelf-life of foods, frozen foods must be properly thawed to ensure their safety and prevent causing food poisoning

To help your employees ensure proper thawing of foods, here are a few mistakes that you need to avoid:

  • You do not have to plan ahead to thaw foods.
  • You can thaw food on the counter.
  • You do not need to monitor the temperature of a clean refrigerator while thawing.
  • You can use any type of bag for thawing in water.
  • You do not need to rotate the food when microwaving.

Orient food handlers regarding these mistakes to protect the safety of your consumers. Proper thawing of foods must always be paired with freezing foods. It is the first essential step before your foods can be cooked for your customers.


How can you help your employees to monitor food temperatures?

Both the processes of freezing and thawing foods require temperature regulation. Thawing, on the one hand, may require more attention. Too much time allotted for thawing may lead to contamination of food. If food handlers become too preoccupied with other food safety tasks and forget to take out the food that they are thawing, bacteria may multiply rapidly and make cooking ineffective.

You need a comprehensive food safety monitoring system that will help your team remember all tasks while ensuring that every operation is done according to food safety standards and regulations. Your pen-and-paper food safety monitoring system, paired with manual reminders, will not be enough to do the job anymore. This is especially true when you have a large operation or are expanding.

At FoodDocs, we offer a smarter way to help you stay compliant by completing all food safety tasks on time and effectively. Using our digital Food Safety Management System, you can ensure that all of your food products and customers are safe. You can also make food safety compliance easier for your employees.

Specifically, you can help your team through the following services that we provide:

  • You can get automatically generated digital monitoring logs that are fit specifically for your food operations. These monitoring logs can replace your traditional paper monitoring forms and record all of your important information. Some of the monitoring logs that we can produce for you include
    • Freezer temperature log
    • Temperature log

Temperature log FoodDocs

Temperature log in FoodDocs' app


    • Calibration log
    • Receiving temperature log
  • These monitoring logs are equipped with detailed instructions on how to perform food safety tasks. With this feature, you can ensure that tasks are effectively done to maintain food safety.

  • To help remind your employees of tasks that need to be done, our system features a smart notification system that alerts food handlers. You can set the notification system yourself to remind you to monitor foods being thawed.

Our digital Food Safety Monitoring System can also help you improve efficiency when it comes to managing food safety in your food company:

  • You can use our real-time dashboard that gives an overview of your entire operations. Use this feature to identify areas needing more focus and address them immediately.

Real-time dashboard

Real-time dashboard of food safety tasks in FoodDocs


  • Save all monitoring logs and other essential food safety documents in one secure place with the cloud storage that comes with our system.

Building your comprehensive digital FSMS can be as easy as a few clicks. Powered by artificial intelligence and a machine-learning program, our system can generate your food safety system in just 15 minutes. Moreover, you can further customize the system to fit unique operations in your food establishment.

Start your food safety compliance journey in a digital platform with us at FoodDocs. Experience our digital FSMS by using our free 14-day trial now. 



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