General Question

AshlynM's avatar

Is it safe to leave frozen food out on the counter to thaw?

Asked by AshlynM (10610points) August 23rd, 2011

especially raw meat (still in its wrapping)

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25 Answers

Lightlyseared's avatar

Food safety advice generally advises against it.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Refrigerator is best, overnight. On the counter will get you a trip to ER with food poisoning.

Kardamom's avatar

No because the outside will start to warm up much quicker than the inside and bacteria will start to grow and multiply and thrive. By the time that the inside is thawed out and still cold, the outside will start to go bad, because it will have been sitting out way too long at an unsafe temperature. You should always thaw things out in the refrigerator or in the microwave.

You can read more about the science of this info here and this site which also gives some other safety info with regards to meat and cross contamination etc. Also, you should not thaw out meat and then re-freeze it. You can read about that here

Most frozen food packages (like frozen meals) has a warning on the side of the box that says not to thaw the food before cooking, nor to eat it frozen.

Lightlyseared's avatar

My preferred way of defrosting small packages of meat (say a single size like an 8oz steak) is in a warm water bath at about 40oC. It only takes 10 minutes to defrost so bactreria has no chance to grow. Also it’s very fast.

Kardamom's avatar

@Lightlyseared Everything that I have read says that a cold water bath is OK, as long as you keep changing the water and keeping it cold every 30 minutes. So far, everything I’ve read has said never to use a warm water bath, even though it thaws out quicker, the temperature itself is what makes the bacteria start to grow and multiply. You can read about that here

JLeslie's avatar

What @Kardamom says is correct, the outside is likely to thaw and actually get warm, before the center completely thaws.

Personally, I let meat thaw on the counter for a few hours, and while the outside is still cold I transfer it to the fridge.

Thin items like most fish, I just go ahead and do it on the counter as long as I am home and can keep an eye on it, and ready to cook as soon as it thaws.

But, indeed experts would advise against thawing foods on the counter.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

I already know that I am going to be in the minority on this.

In my experience, it is fine to thaw meat at room temperature, especially if wrapped properly, depending upon how it will be cooked. Meat of any kind is at risk of picking up dangerous critters. Freezing to the proper temperature should kill them. If not, or it picks up bacteria during the thawing process, it will be killed if cooked at the appropriate temperature.

I’ve taken a few food safety courses over the years, and it is always about not achieving proper food temperatures, be it cold or hot, that can cause a risk. If you bring home fresh meat, refrigerate it overnight and do not thoroughly cook it, there is still a risk.

john65pennington's avatar

I cook frozen mac and cheese in the microwave.

Why not do the same with your frozen item?

dappled_leaves's avatar

I’m with @Pied_Pfeffer on this one.

Kardamom's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer Freezing actually does not kill all bacteria or yeasts or molds or some types of parasites. Keeping the meat frozen keeps those nasties from multiplying while the meat is still frozen, but as soon as the meat starts to thaw out, those nasties start to multiply. I learned this in my basic cooking class back in 7th grade, but you can read more about that subject and other food safety issues here

My father and a few of my relatives have compromised immune systems due to open heart surgery and diabetes and cancer, and I would never, ever take a chance on thawing meat on the counter, even if I personally have never encountered anything bad. It’s just not worth the risk.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

@gravity WTF?

I thaw out meat on the countertop all the time, and I cook it properly. I’ve been doing this since I was 17 and I am now 32. And just like my comment on the question about the safety of eating leftover rice, it has NEVER made me sick.

I’m not saying I leave packages of ground beef on the countertop all day long… but if I intend to cook at 5:30, I set the meat (still wrapped) on the kitchen counter about 1:00. By the time I cook it, it’s still not “warm” and like I said- I cook it properly. We’ve never had issues because of it.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@Kardamom Freezing at the proper temperature or above should kill existing parasites. Thawing meat brings on other opportunities. If it is cooked thoroughly at proper temperatures, there should be no problem. Please be assured that I did not mean to imply that thawing frozen foods at room temperature is safe. It is always a risk. Then again, everything we do is a risk. It’s not always easy to diagnose where our ailments from, but it sure is easy to latch on to a theory offered. I’m guilty of doing this.

dappled_leaves's avatar

I think a lot of these safety rules are meant to make us overly cautious, so we can mess up and still not have to be rushed to the emergency room. No, freezing will not kill bacteria, and yes, bacteria will begin to grow again once the item has left the freezer, but look – a thawing piece of meat is still frozen. It will be colder than the inside of your refrigerator for a good long time. So yes, eventually put it into the refrigerator, but it’s going to be just fine on the counter during most of the thawing process. The bacteria on the surface (even assuming that is dangerous, which it isn’t necessarily) will be killed when you cook it. No big deal.

Kardamom's avatar

I’m not trying to embarrass anyone or hurt anybody’s feelings. I have had to learn a lot about preventing any kind of food borne illnesses for my relatives well being. Most of you will not get sick at all, by thawing your meat on the counter. Or you may have symptoms that you attribute to other causes. I believe that there have been lots of unreported food poisoining that have happened at dinner parties, potlucks and even in our own homes, but because the symptoms were not extreme, people didn’t even consider it to be food poisoining. Unfortunately when you have someone with a compromised immune system, something that would cause no problem, or just a few runs or farts or upset stomach to an average person, could kill the person with the compromised immune system.

I’ve done a lot of research on my own, and I’ve taken food safety courses and I’ve talked to countless doctors and nutritionists to get the food safety info that I need. I’m just trying to pass along some of what I have learned. But I also realize that people’s habits die hard and if you haven’t actually experienced (or known that you experienced) a problem, then you are not likely to change your habits. I’m always the type of person that favors better safe than sorry.

What I have learned is that most bacteria is not killed by freezing, nor are some parasites. They simply go into a kind of dormant state, until the thawing occurs. That is why keeping the temperature very low is important, because at certain temps, usually above 40 degrees, the bacteria start to multiply and the parasites (if there were any) become active again.

Flash freezing, which is only done in commercial plants (you can’t freeze food quickly enough or cold enough in a regular home freezer, not even one of those fancy subzero types) is the only type of freezing that can actually kill these nasty things. You can read more about how food borne illnesses happen and how they can be prevented here

I don’t expect anyone to change their minds or their habits based on anything that I have said, especially if you haven’t had any problems, that you know of, associated with this situation. But the same thing can be said for not wearing a seatbelt. Most people will not be killed in a car accident because they weren’t wearing a seatbelt, simply because most people are not in car accidents. But people that are in car accidents are far more likely to be killed if they aren’t taking the safety precaution of wearing a seatbelt. For me it’s just common sense. But some of you will come on and say it’s apples and oranges. I can’t do anything about that, if that’s how you are thinking.

I just have to try to do the best that I can for my family to keep them healthy and safe. And a little bit of planning is really all it takes.

gravity's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate so sorry to you and everyone else… I was not quite myself. My rule of thumb is if it takes 2 hours to thaw on the counter, don’t let it sit for 2 more. You can thaw longer on the counter than under running water. Thaws pretty quickley under water than otherwise. I tend to err on the side of caution with this one though. After 2 hours (at room temp) bacteria doubles in amount. Happy Freezing. i miss garret rt now

JLeslie's avatar

@gravity I think most bacteria divides every 20 minutes, so numbers double in 20 minutes. In two hours, well if you have 10 at first, then 20 in 20 minutes, then 40 at 40 minutes, then 80 at 60 minutes, then 160 at 80 minutes, then 320 at 100 minutes, so two hours we are at 640 from the original 10. Except of course we are probably need to actually add a few zeros to the right.

gravity's avatar

yes, it probably doubles every 2o minutes. For the love of all that is holy, be careful with your damn raw chicken because even good, that st$#Wf doesn’t look good for you given the wrong bacterial count.

JLeslie's avatar

@gravity Well, samonella is killed off when you cook it, if that is what you are concerned about, and most people know to cook chicken through. Steak is typically not cooked through, which is usually not a problem, because ecoli is on the surface of the steak, but when left out at room temp a long time other bacterias grow that can make a person sick, and I would guess possibly the ecoli can work its way deeper toward the center of the meat? Not sure.

Fish, meat or chicken that has gone bad will make you sick even if you cook it. I once read it is estimated that 1 in 4 people in the US have some sort of food bourne illness every year.

Nullo's avatar

I’ve had a lot of success with soaking it in cold water. Success rated here in instances of food poisoning – nothing that required a doctor.

Proper application of destructive energies ought to suffice to render even spoiled meat safe, if not particularly palatable.

Lightlyseared's avatar

@Kardamon I said warm not hot. I can cite the scientific research that proves it’s safer than slow cold water defrosting.

crimsonangie83's avatar

I would always thaw it in the fridge overnight.

Keep_on_running's avatar

How did early humans ever survive without refrigerators to defrost their meat trays?! Better not take too long eating your beef burger, at 9 o’clock that bacteria will be doubled!!! Oh god no, it’s reached the danger zone temperature!

The precautions are overkill…as was my sarcasm.

Nullo's avatar

@Keep_on_running We used to just live with food spoilage. I suspect that such immune systems as survived were tougher than our own.

Response moderated (Off-Topic)

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