4 Safe Methods for Thawing Food

Color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph sh...

Color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph showing Salmonella typhimurium (red) invading cultured human cells (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Food safety is a serious subject. I am passionate about preventing food borne illness. I have been teaching the subject to restaurants, hospitals, schools, dietary managers, nursing homes and at the college level since 1991. I am a Food Safety expert.

This is the launch of a series of food safety articles.

The first subject is on 4 Safe Methods of Thawing Foods.

There are 4 safe methods for thawing food. Following one of these methods can help prevent making your family and friends sick with a food borne illness.

1. Thaw under refrigeration.

This takes some planning. Sort out  your refrigerator so you have a designated drawer on the bottom of your fridge to hold raw meats.

If you want to defrost a whole 3 pound chicken, it will take about 4 days to thaw. You need to plan a place where it can do so safely. All thawing meats should be positioned so they are not dripping onto any foods below them. Place them in containers to catch thawing juices.

In My Fridge

In A Fridge (Photo credit: Nikita Kashner)

Store food according to:”Swim, Walk, Fly”

  • Ready to eat foods on top
  • Things that swim (Including oysters, clams etc. If it comes from the water, it is considered a “swimming thing.”
  • Things that walk around (On hooves and feet and have fur or hair like pork, lamb, beef, or Ostrich.)
  • Things that walk around but are ground up, like ground pork or ground veal or hamburger. These get cooked to a higher temperature than steaks, chops or roasts.
  • Things that fly ( Chickens, ducks, squab, quail, and even though turkeys don’t fly, they also fall into this category)
  • This is based upon internal cooking temperatures which will be explained in another post. For now remember and practice
  • “Swim, Walk, (Ground-up Walk),Fly”

So what happens when you don’t have the time?

2. Thaw under clean drinkable water that is 70°F or less, and either running or changed frequently.

A bowl in the sink with cold water, but not hot, is fine for thawing a package of chicken for dinner. As long as you change the water about every half hour. If water logging is a concern, place the item in a zip lock bag and place that in the water.

The water should be changed every 30 minutes.

This is not a method to use while you are at work. Why? Because the water needs to be changed every 30 minutes or lightly running so the water is exchanged as thawing occurs.

Never thaw in the sink for longer than 4 hours! That is the amount of time it takes any bacterial colonies to grow to dangerous levels.

Never, ever thaw on the counter or just left in the sink. This is a very bad and risky practice.

Keep you eye on the product, it will thaw faster than you think it will.

3. In a microwave as long as the item will be cooked immediately after thawing.

My concern here would be the quality of the item. I can’t think of anything that benefits from a run in the microwave.

But, as long as you cook the item as soon as you finish nuking it to thaw, this is considered a safe method.

Be sure to clean and sanitize the inside of the microwave after you finish thawing.

4. You can thaw food as part of the cooking process.

day fifty three | a piece of meat

(Photo credit: I Are Rowell)

The best examples here are frozen vegetables into soup stock, frozen french fries into the oven or fryer oil and frozen burgers going directly onto the grill.

Again, your call on the quality issue of cooking meats from frozen. I find the texture isn’t as nice than if you thawed it under refrigeration which is my thawing method of choice.

So there you have it. 4 Safe methods to thaw foods.

This information is from ServSafe® an educational division of The National Restaurant Association (NRA). These are the best practices that are used to train food handlers in  all restaurants, hospitals, nursing homes, schools and dietitians.

I have a dual role with the NRA to both teach and administer the exam for ServSafe®. Food safety is a passion of mine. No one should ever suffer an illness from food you eat.

Learn how to prevent such things from happening.  Become advocates for your own food safety. If you see a bad practice, speak up!

Implement good food handling practices every time you touch food.

It really is that important.

Please let me know if you have any questions!

None - This image is in the public domain and ...

Food Safety In the Refrigerator

Everyone needs reminders of how to handle food safely. As a professional who teaches food safety, I believe you can’t hear it enough. Small reminders and a bit of education can help save a lot of grief in preventing a multitude of food borne illnesses for anyone who handles food.

Do you know how to keep food safe in the refrigerator?

Current Contents of Refrigerator

Current Contents of Refrigerator (Photo credit: Natalie Maynor)

This post will outline the basic concept of refrigerator storage to reduce the chance of cross contamination.

The top of the fridge should be home to all ready to eat foods. Sandwich meats, cheese, leftovers get stored above raw products.

Some refrigerators have 2 bottom drawers. Designate one for raw meats and one for fresh produce. If you only have one large drawer, buy plastic storage bin that will fit on one side and designate that for meat storage. Keep all poultry separate from meat.

Raw meats should be stored in the following order

  1. Things that swim
  2. Things that walk
  3. Things that are ground-up walking around
  4. Things that fly or come from things that fly

This is called “The Swim, Walk, Fly System” of refrigerated storage.

To describe each category:

  1. Things that swim

    English: Sushi is a dish made of vinegared ric...

    Raw seafood (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Raw fresh water and salt water fish, whole or fillets, shell-fish, shrimp, lobster, crab, mussels, oysters, etc.

If it is pre-cooked, it goes with the ready-to-eat category.

2. Things that walk

English: Veal shank used for ossobuco. Dansk: ...

English: Veal shank used for osso buco.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Raw beef, pork, veal, lamb, venison, boar, buffalo

     3. Things that are ground-up walking around

Raw Ground beef

Raw Ground beef (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Any raw ground beef, veal, pork, venison, buffalo: if it is ground up it goes below whole muscle meats.

      4. Things that fly or come from things that fly

Raw chicken fillet

Raw chicken fillet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All raw birds: chicken, quail, turkey, pheasant, squab, duck, and even though it does not fly, ostrich belongs in this category.

Raw eggs belong on the bottom shelf too. If one breaks, it won’t have the chance of dripping all over other things in the refrigerator.

Here is an interesting experiment to try with a raw egg:

English: The white eggshell has been removed b...

English: The white eggshell has been removed by soaking a normal chicken egg into vinegar for 48 hours. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course don’t eat the egg after.

Make it a habit to wash the drawers and shelves when they get soiled or sticky.

An open box of baking soda will help absorb strong odors.

After handling raw meats, poultry and seafood, be sure to wash and sanitize the knives, cutting boards, sinks and counter tops to prevent cross contamination.

Clorox Clean-up spray does a great job of this. Use gloves when handling to protect your skin.

That’s it for now.

I’m going to go soak an egg.

Food Safety

English: Template for Template:Food safety

Image via Wikipedia

Nearly every day we hear of  food safety related issues in the news: salmonella, Listeria, E coli, norovirus, hepatitis a,b,c, Shigella contamination and food recalls. While most people think these issues are concern only to the commercial food industry, the truth is these issues matter at home too.

Food safety is a passion of mine. We all expect restaurants to handle the food they prepare safely and not transmit any food borne illnesses. Protecting  public health through training and education is expected, encouraged and required by laws and regulations.

The general public has a notion of what they expect from a restaurant as far as sanitation standards are concerned but neglect to apply those same expectations to their home kitchens.

How well do we do at home?

Food borne illness outbreak investigations begin in the victims home. Often it is found we have made ourselves sick.

If we look at the top five areas the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified as the most likely to produce a food borne illness, we can analyze how to do better at home.

1. Buying food from unsafe sources

2. Failing to cook food adequately

3. Holding food at incorrect temperatures

4. Unclean equipment and utensils

5. Poor personal hygiene

Let’s take a look at each area and see what we can do to improve the sanitation of our home kitchens. A little knowledge can save a lot of discomfort while preventing a food borne illness outbreak.

1. Buying food from unsafe sources

Know where your food comes from. If you buy from farmers, ask about their agricultural practices. Are they organic? Do they have documentation to prove it? Can you come visit the farm?

For grocers and other markets, look around and see how clean it is. Notice handling habits of employees and don’t be afraid to speak up when you see something you think should be corrected.

Transport your food from the store to home in cooler bags and properly put the food away as soon as you get home.

Use the rule of 2 hours or less out of refrigeration. This includes walking around the store, taking it home, unpacking and putting it away. Do it quickly. Don’t buy groceries and then just “run in for a minute” anywhere. Food has the priority over just about anything else short of a medical emergency.

Remember this rule: Any food that has been out of refrigeration for 4 hours or more has to be thrown away.

Color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph sh...

Image via Wikipedia Color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph showing Salmonella typhimurium (red) invading cultured human cells Credit: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH

2. Failing to cook food adequately

Cook poultry well done. That is at least 165°F (74°C) for 15 seconds. There should be no pink or red juices and no red or pink near the bones.

The inside of muscle meat is considered sterile until pierced. So don’t go poking your fork in the steaks for the grill if you want them on the rare side. Poke them only after the outside has been seared.

3. Holding food at incorrect temperatures

Hot food hot and cold food cold. The temperatures are 135°F (57°C) for hot food and 41°F (5°C) for cold foods. Anything in between is optimal for bacterial, viral and parasitic growth.

DO NOT thaw frozen proteins on the counter or in the sink. Thaw in the refrigerator, or under lightly running water that is 70°F (21°C) which means the water is cold, not warm or hot!

Always sanitize the counter, sinks, tools, towels, aprons etc. after handling proteins using a bleach solution of  1/8 tsp bleach to 1 quart of cold water.

4. Unclean equipment and utensils

After each use and before starting another one, all used equipment must be washed, rinsed and sanitized before starting another task. Run things through the dishwasher on the sanitizer cycle with heat dry.

When was the last time you cleaned out the refrigerator and washed all the drawers, walls and shelves? Do this task on a weekly basis and daily as spills occur.

None - This image is in the public domain and ...

Image via Wikipedia

5. Poor personal hygiene

Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. When handling food, you can’t wash your hands too much.

If you have a wound or injury that has broken flesh, cover the wound with a bandage and wear a glove.

Do not prepare food for other people when you are ill.

Sorting out your home refrigerator

If you know what order foods should be stored in, you can avoid the risk of causing a food borne illness in your home.

Here is a simple rule I call “Swim, Walk, Fly”

From the top down designate areas for:

    • Ready to Eat (vegetables, salads, cakes, fruit, drinks, cheese)
    • Things that swim (fish, shrimp, seafood – fresh and salt water)
    • Things that walk (Beef, pork, lamb roasts or steaks)
    • Walking things that are ground up (Ground beef, ground pork, ground lamb)
    • Things that fly (chicken, quail, turkey, duck, pheasant, squab, eggs)

All flying things are to be on the very bottom. Keeping items in this order will prevent any cross contamination. Teach your family how to properly store things in the refrigerator too.

Cover and label all food correctly.

Date when things go into the refrigerator and then throw them out after 7 days.

Cool food before placing them in the refrigerator. Remember to cool food quickly – four hours or less or else throw it out.

Use ice baths, cut into smaller portions, increase the surface area by spreading the food on a sheet pan are all methods to cool food quickly before storing.

Pack groceries carefully. Keep all proteins in separate plastic bags.

Do not mix muscle meats with ground meats; keep them separated.

Keep all poultry separate from everything.

If you use cloth bags for your groceries, be sure to wash them once a week or more often if they become soiled or stained.

Designate different bags for meat and bags for produce.

Food Safety is not just for professional food handlers. It is for everyone.

A little bit of knowledge can go a long way in preventing some pretty serious food borne illnesses.

Implement your own food safety program at home today.

If you need any help as to how to get started, let me know. I’ll be glad to help.