4 Methods For Defrosting Food Safely

Defrosting food at room temperature can cause bacteria growth and may lead to food poisoning. Learn about the four best methods for defrosting food safely.


October 10, 2017 By Danielle Cullen

There are four ways in which to defrost food safely - in the refrigerator, in the microwave, as part of the cooking process or under cold running water.

Let’s take a look at each method in turn.

1. Defrosting Food In The Refrigerator

The safest way to defrost food is in the refrigerator. When food is defrosted in the refrigerator, the food doesn’t need to pass through the temperature danger zone. This is why it’s the safest of all defrosting methods.

To defrost food in the refrigerator, ensure that the temperature is 4°C (40°F) or below and that the items being defrosted are placed on the lowest shelves to prevent dripping or splashing.

It can take quite a long time to defrost food in a refrigerator. Large items, such as frozen turkeys, can take several days to defrost as you need to allow at least 24 hours for every 2.5kg. Even small items will take at least a full day to defrost.

2. Defrosting Food In The Microwave

Microwave ovens can be quite useful for defrosting small items quickly.

It’s important to remember that heat isn’t distributed evenly through food when using a microwave, so it will be necessary to stir the item during the defrosting process.

Microwave defrosting is only recommended for food items that are to be cooked immediately after defrosting

3. Defrosting Food As Part of The Cooking Process

Some food items have been designed to be cooked from frozen such as hamburger patties, frozen vegetables and frozen pastry.

This method should only be used for foods designed to be cooked this way. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions and check the internal temperature of the food before serving

4. Defrosting Food Under Cold Running Water

Defrosting under cold running water is the least preferred method of defrosting as it can be quite easy for the food item to reach temperatures within the temperature danger zone.

If you must use this method, then use a clean and sanitized sink, and completely submerge the food item under running potable water of 20°C (60°F) or lower. The food should be held in leak-proof, waterproof packaging.

The sink must be large enough to allow the food item to be completely covered, and defrosting must be completed within 2 hours or less.

Don’t forget to clean and sanitize the sink after defrosting food in it.

A Word of Caution

Defrosting must never be done at room temperature. This means no defrosting of food on kitchen workbenches or other surfaces.

Ensure frozen food is fully defrosted before cooking. There are some exceptions to this rule as some frozen foods are designed to be cooked from frozen such as chicken nuggets or pastry but if it doesn’t specify this is the case on the packaging, assume it’s not.