Safely defrosting foods

Learn how to safely defrost your meat, poultry, fish and seafood to avoid food poisoning.

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About defrosting

Proper defrosting reduces your risk of food poisoning. Food poisoning occurs when you eat food that contains harmful bacteria.

Meat, poultry, fish and seafood must reach a safe internal cooking temperature to kill bacteria in the meat.

If food is not thawed properly, bacteria that may have been present on their surface before freezing can begin to multiply.

If raw meat is partly frozen when you cook it, it can lead to uneven cooking. This means certain parts of the meat may not reach the safe internal cooking temperature required to kill the bacteria.

When defrosting meat, poultry, fish and seafood, avoid cross-contamination by:

  • sanitizing your:
    • sink
    • dishes
    • utensils
    • surfaces
  • washing your hands

Some people are more at risk for food poisoning than others, including:

How to safely defrost raw food

Defrosting meat, including poultry, fish and seafood, can be done in:

  1. the refrigerator
  2. the microwave
  3. cold water within a sealed package

Don't let your food defrost on the counter. Defrosting food at room temperature allows bacteria to grow, which could increase your chance of getting food poisoning.

Before you defrost your frozen meat, you should check the packaging. Make sure that it's not torn or open, to avoid juice leakage contaminating the surrounding area.

Once food has been completely defrosted, don't re-freeze it. You can re-freeze partly defrosted food only if it still has ice crystals on its surface.

Defrosting in the refrigerator

The safest way to defrost any food is in the refrigerator.

Place the meat in a clean container or platter that will hold any juices leaking out of the food. Place it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to prevent accidental cross-contamination of other food.

Cook the meat as soon as it's defrosted.

Defrost poultry 24 hours for each 2.5 kg (5 pounds) of bird. For other meat, usually 24 hours in the refrigerator should be enough to thaw it completely. 

Defrosting in the microwave

A microwave should be used only for defrosting meat that will be cooked right away.

Only use containers, lids and wraps that are clearly marked as microwave-safe. Before heating, remove the food from any packaging that's not microwave safe, such as:

  • polystyrene trays
  • plastic wraps that touch the food
  • freezer cartons, such as cardboard boxes used for packaging

Use a clean container or platter to collect any juices that leak out of the food. This will help prevent the contamination of the microwave. Place the meat in the container and cover with a lid or plastic wrap that doesn't touch the food. Leave a small gap for steam to escape.

Use the defrost setting on the microwave and defrost completely before cooking.

Defrosting in water

Under running water

Defrost your food under cold tap water in a sanitized sink. Make sure that the meat is wrapped in leak-proof plastic to help prevent cross-contamination. Run cold water from the tap over the meat until it's defrosted.

Submerged in water

You can also submerge your food in a clean container or in the sanitized kitchen sink filled with cold water. Make sure that the meat is wrapped in leak-proof plastic and completely covered by water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the meat is defrosted.

Defrosting leftovers

Make sure that frozen leftovers have remained properly sealed before defrosting. Defrost frozen leftovers in the refrigerator or in the microwave.

If defrosting in the microwave, remove the food from any packaging or wrapping that might not be microwave-safe.

Once leftovers have been defrosted:

  • eat them right away
  • do not re-freeze them
  • throw away any part that's not consumed

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