The Best Ways to Thaw Food

As you’re following the South Beach Diet, you’re likely preparing more homemade meals, and that’s good news. But there are some precautions to take. If you’re not careful about properly thawing frozen foods, for example, you can become more susceptible to food-borne illnesses. The key to defrosting foods is to keep them at a safe temperature during the thawing process. As soon as food begins to defrost and become warmer than 40°F, bacteria can start to grow and spread. That’s why food should never be thawed and kept on the kitchen counter or placed in warm water. Here are some guidelines to consider the next time you’re thawing frozen food to help you stay healthy:

  • Refrigerator thawing: The safest way to defrost food is to keep it in the refrigerator at 40°F or below. Frozen foods usually require 24 hours of thawing in the fridge for each 5 pounds of weight. But even smaller amounts of frozen food — such as a pound of ground beef or chicken breasts — usually take a whole day (8 to 9 hours) to defrost. Normally if you thaw food for an entire day in the refrigerator, it will stay good for another day or two before cooking (fish is an exception, enjoy it as soon as possible). Red meat, however, can last up to five days after thawing.
    Best for: leftovers, meat, poultry, fish


  • Cold-Water thawing: Cold-water thawing is faster than using the refrigerator, but it requires more attention. First of all, the food you’re thawing must be in a leak-proof package or plastic bag. Any openings in the package could allow bacteria from the air or water to come into contact with the food and potentially contaminate it. Once you've made sure the bag is leak-proof, submerge the entire bag of food in the cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes. If you have just a small amount of meat or poultry (1 pound or less), it should only take an hour (maybe even less) to defrost with this method. A larger amount, such as a whole chicken, may take up to 2 to 3 hours (or sometimes longer, depending on the size). Once the food is completely thawed, it should be cooked immediately.
    Best for: whole chickens and turkeys; chicken and turkey breasts


  • Microwave thawing: Most microwave ovens now have a pre-set button for thawing frozen foods. Keep in mind that when you thaw in the microwave, some areas of the food may become warm and start to cook as it defrosts. Keeping defrosted food sitting in the microwave is not recommended because bacteria can grow when a certain temperature is reached. As with cold-water thawing, food that is thawed in the microwave should be cooked immediately after defrosting.
    Best for: fish, poultry, meat, vegetables, leftovers


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