INFORMATION FRIDAY: HOW TO SAFELY THAW FOOD?

I know, I’ve been a bit preachy of late.  It’s the times, or maybe the incessant wind.  Let me get this one off my chest, and I promise I’ll untwist my knickers.

A few days ago a question was posted to a food website about the “safest way to quickly thaw chicken.”  The questioner confessed to being in the habit of leaving it on a plate in the kitchen while he/she was at work, and had a feeling there was a better way.  If I did that, my cats would think Christmas was rolling around as often as it probably should.  If I did that, I would hope someone would drag me off to have my head examined, and not for being overly generous to the animals.

Unfortunately, we don’t know if the question refers to a piece or pieces of chicken, or a whole chicken.  It doesn’t make an enormous difference because the answer is the same regardless.  The only difference is that a single piece or individual pieces will thaw more quickly than the entire bird.  The process, though is identical.  The USDA and common sense recommend that you transfer anything  frozen to refrigeration for as long as it takes for it to thaw.  A whole frozen chicken:  a good 2 days.  A frozen turkey?  Count on 4 days.

The next best way is to place the frozen food under cold running water.  It sounds counter-intuitive, but it works like a charm.  Now it won’t thaw a whole chicken in 20 minutes, but a chicken breast?  Sure.  A piece of fish, a steak, a frozen burger patty?  Absolutely.  That said, since most of us have to buy water from the city, then pay to run it into the sewer, running water can be a bit of a pricey way of thawing a dinner repeatedly.  Instead, I put my bison burger patties, or my piece of ahi in a large bowl of cold tap water.  I change it every 15 minutes or so until the food is thawed.  Use the same method for thawing a bag of frozen vegetables.  In winter, I go through many bags of frozen peas and corn.  I’ll transfer what I need from the master frozen bag to a ziplock bag, and toss that into a bowl of cold water.  A black bean salad with tender sweet corn in January is a pretty precious thing.

The third alternative is to defrost in a microwave.  How many of us have not resorted to this?  How many of us have been happy with the result?  For one thing, it’s not going to do much good against a frozen chicken, let alone a turkey.  For another, I’d change my dinner plans rather than let a piece of ahi even catch a glimpse of a microwave.  Nonetheless, if you must thaw in a microwave, you must be prepared to proceed with cooking it immediately.  I trust the reasons are obvious.  If not, think about what you’ve just done.  The microwave has set water molecules in motion, thereby causing friction, which generates, heat, which causes food to not only thaw, but also to begin cooking.  You’ve launched it into what is known as the temperature danger zone.

The TDZ (cooking has its own set of potentially fearsome acronyms) is the range between 41 and 135 degrees fahrenheit.  That is the temperature range in which bacteria can begin to grow and to thrive.  The objective in handling food, whether it be heating (including thawing) or cooling (a sermon for another day) is to move it through the TDZ as quickly as possible.  Thawing food under refrigeration fits that bill to a T, as does thawing in cold water.  Imagine traveling downhill in a baby buggy.  You all thought, “dangerous,” right?  Right?  That’s similar to what microwaving does to frozen food.  It launches it straight into the TDZ.  Therefore, it needs to be cooked immediately.

Now back to the site and the question in question.  Several answers, mine included, addressed well the coldness portions of this explanation.  One did not.  That responder (who had the TDZ temperatures wrong) suggested that the chicken be sealed in a plastic bag, then submerged in a bowl of lukewarm water.  The person further advised thawing in the refrigerator during the day, then finishing with the water method (presumably lukewarm) upon arriving home.  I didn’t become alarmed until that response was tagged as VOTED THE BEST ANSWER!  The exclamation point is not mine.

What’s wrong with this picture?  Obviously, the lukewarm water.  For what I again hope are obvious reasons.  Let’s return to the original question:  the safest way to quickly thaw chicken.  I tend to think of safest and quickest as being self-explanatory.  But I may not have as much company as I thought I did.  Clearly, the answer voted the BEST was the one everyone LIKED the best because it probably affirms what they’re already doing.  But it is not a good answer.  And no one should be doing that.

The first rule of the kitchen is Kill No One.  (I’m not making this up.)  Including yourself.  Plan ahead.  Be a little more patient than you might otherwise be.  Be safe.

Bon appétit!

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About thesolitarycook

I'm a chef, a cook, a teacher, a reader, a writer, a bike-rider, a dog- and cat-woman
This entry was posted in RECIPES, STORIES and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to INFORMATION FRIDAY: HOW TO SAFELY THAW FOOD?

  1. Love it when you get preachy, I always learn so much! Thank you for this informative post, food safety is no laughing matter and when you are on the receiving end of food poisoning you realize just how important it is.

    • Seriously, Suzanne, thank you. I was shocked at what was voted The Best Answer.

      • I saw that and thought, oh no they didn’t, but unfortunately they did. Yikes!

      • I know, I had the same thought, but after the debacles of the glug and the meatballs, I decided not to wade in and to address it here instead.

      • Good idea, it so easily can turn into a major broohaha

      • Isn’t that the truth. I learned a lot from the whole glug episode. One is that I’ll save my occasionally warped sense of humor for the blog and the other strictly for the facts. On the other hand, in that incident, I recall it was the factual explanation that helped make things worse. Sometimes you can’t win for losing, maybe that’s the moral of the whole story.

      • It’s like bar brawls, some people go in looking to start trouble and I’m afraid some of those on the website do just that, they are a ticking time bomb and are just waiting for an opportunity to start punching, no rhyme nor reason they simply do it because they can, its like Suzanne said because they can make these remarks under a cloak of anonymity they feel free to let the slurs fly, tantamount to bullying in my opinion. You are wise to keep the remarks confined to a friendly less public venue.

      • Thanks for your agreement. I love your bar brawl analogy! Spot on.

  2. Heidi says:

    I am glad you posted this since I have had this conversation with so many people.

  3. Karen Rush says:

    I have read and re-read your latest posting and I am sharing it with my daughter as well. Such sane sensible advice. I concur with everything you say but what I really liked was the explanation of the role of temperature in the life of bacteria. You are a natural writer and what you write is delightfully engaging. We all owe you much. Thank you.

    • You are so kind! Humor wins over pedantry any day, in my book. If I can’t read or listen to something that’s going to put me to sleep, I’ll try not to write it, either. No matter how tight the knickers!

  4. ldpw says:

    So good to know. I always learn so much when you get preachy.

  5. Putting it in a Baggie in a bowl of lukewarm water was voted best answer??! That feels more sous vide than defrost method, but it’s a great way to get really sick. Once you’ve had food poisoning, even if it was from restaurant food like it was for me, you do everything possible to make sure it never happens again. Your process is the best answer as far as I’m concerned!! I don’t freeze much, to be honest, but had never thought through the fact that microwaving lurches the meat/fish immediately into the temperature danger zone. REALLY good information!! Thanks for posting this!

  6. Nessa robins says:

    Such an interesting and informative post! I often have this conversation with people. Thank you for sharing.

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