There are four ways to defrost food and only three are safe.
“What’s the big deal about defrosting food? My mom leaves a package of frozen chicken out on the counter all the time.”
Let’s talk about how to defrost food. This is an important subject all kids need to know. One of the most important things in teaching kids cooking is teaching kids what can happen if food is not defrosted properly.
Kids might think that food poisoning is not a big deal in our country. After all, most families have stores to purchase food and a refrigerator where you can safely store food. But last year, there were 48 million cases of illness caused by food. Over 100,000 required hospitalization and 3000 people died. that’s a lot of people. One in six to be exact, were touched by “bad food”, last year.
I am a certified food safety manager so I know how important it is to keep food safe. It’s not difficult, it only requires some knowledge and planning. I am going to talk about one of the important ways to keep food safe in this blog; defrosting food correctly is so important . Yep, I’ll give you the right, the wrong and the dangerous ways.
It’s true! Because many families, like this one, are busy and have to do their shopping once or twice a week, the practice of freezing and defrosting food has become common. So does this mean that food is totally safe to eat as long as it’s cooked?
“Freezing food keeps all the bacteria out”
That’s something you may have heard, which by the way, is totally WRONG.
Freezing food simply freezes any bacteria and preserving it for serving later! GROSS…. I will cover more about how to store food safely in another blog. Just wanted to point out that when you eat food defrosted correctly, there still may be bacteria in the food. The trick is to minimize the number of bacteria.
The following is one story that I heard from a busy mom with two little girls. It was 3:00 in the afternoon when she realized that she had not taken out the ground turkey from the freezer. She had wanted to add it to the spaghetti sauce that was planned for dinner.
She only needed a pound of ground turkey and thought it wouldn’t take long to defrost if she just took it out.
So, this mom left it, on the counter, for three hours while she went to pick up the girls from school and run some last-minute errands. Of course, the ground turkey was almost fully defrosted when she came back to cook the dinner. Perfect, right? She was ready to cook a nutritious dinner for her family.
Unfortunately for her family, there was some bacteria on the poultry , before it was frozen and it happily grew while it sat on the counter defrosting. YUCK!
Even though the turkey was still frozen in the center, the outside of the ground turkey was warm enough for the bacteria to grow. Yep, her entire family was sick for three days. YIKES. And we are not talking sniffles, we are talking gross sick to your stomach and running to the bathroom sick.
So being careful when you defrost food is important. You can have awesome ingredients and cook it perfectly, but if care isn’t taken before you start you can get very sick.
THE DANGER ZONE FOR ALL FOOD
Do not defrost your food on the counter!
Bacteria will grow at temperatures above 40 degrees. We call this the Danger Zone. The room temperature for most home kitchens is 65-78 degrees, Leaving food out for more than one hour on the counter is an issue waiting to happen.
It is okay to leave food out to defrost because any bacteria will be killed once the food is cooked.
The fact is, there are many bacteria that are not killed by high temperature cooking. At any temperature above 40 degrees, toxins and bacteria will grow if they are present on raw food, PERIOD.
How do you keep bacteria from growing on food?
Storing food properly
- Storing raw food at 40+ is part of the Danger Zone.
- Temperatures in your refrigerator should be below 40+, always.
- Raw food should not be kept on the counter longer than one hour.
Three ways that people choose to defrost food
A one pound package of meat should defrost easily in the refrigerator overnight. A good rule of thumb is 5 hours for every pound of meat, poultry or fish. So, a 20-pound turkey can take 4 days to defrost in the refrigerator.
Also, be sure to keep the defrosting food in a bowl or on a plate with sides to keep any juices from dripping onto other foods in the refrigerator. We call this cross contamination. In a professional kitchen, raw meats are always stored on the bottom of the refrigerator for this reason. And careful cleanup after placement on all surfaces and equipment is important.
If you don’t have overnight to defrost your meat, the cold-water method will work. Place your food in a secure bag or keep it in a vacuumed sealed bag (if your product is already packaged that way as this chicken was). Then you can lay it in a deep bowl of cold water and change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cool.
As soon as it is defrosted, you must cook the meat. You must not put it back in the refrigerator to store if you have defrosted it in water.
3. The last resort is the microwave
The last way to defrost food safely, which I do not recommend is to use a microwave. Personally, I hate microwaves, that’s another topic I will cover later. But if you must, to defrost a pound of ground meat in a microwave, just be sure to cook it immediately after defrosting. Do not put back in the refrigerator or freezer until after it has been thoroughly cooked and cooled properly.
Defrost food carefully by taking time to plan ahead
- Bottom line, if frozen foods like fish, meat and poultry have been defrosted safely, there is less chance of food poisoning.
- Food left in the “Danger Zone” over an hour is a breeding ground for bacteria.
- Cooking will not remove all toxins and bacteria from foods.
- If they are not handled properly in the raw state, no amount of cooking will make food safe to eat.
So why not take a little time and do some menu planning to include ingredient preparation? Being smart with your choices and planning can keep you and your family safe. .
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