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Thaw Holiday Foods Safely – for Oct. 8, 2009

Holidays and food go together. If your plans include using frozen foods, thaw them safely to prevent a foodborne illness from spoiling holiday activities.

Keep foods at a safe temperature when thawing. Any bacteria that were present on the food before freezing will begin to multiply as soon as food begins to thaw and become warmer than 4C. Foods should never be thawed on the counter, in the basement, garage, dishwasher, on the back porch or in hot water. Although the centre of the food may still be frozen as it thaws, bacteria can grow in the outer layers of the food before the inside thaws.

When thawing, plan ahead so foods remain safe and maintain good quality. The three safe ways to thaw foods include: in the refrigerator, in cold water and in the microwave oven.

Refrigerator: Of the safe thawing methods, this is the best method to maintain the quality of the food. Planning ahead is the key to this method. A large frozen item (like a turkey) requires approximately 24 hours for every five pounds of weight. Meat, poultry and fish should be placed in a pan to catch drips during the thawing process. Place the pan of food on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator.

Cold water: Submerge the food in a leak-proof plastic bag and put into a clean and sanitized deep pot or sink filled with cold water. Keep the water cold and clean by changing it every 30 minutes. Allow 30 minutes per pound to defrost food.

Microwave oven: This method works best for small amounts of food. Leave approximately two inches between the food and oven’s inside surface to allow heat to circulate. Microwave thawing is irregular, creates hot spots and may encourage bacterial growth. Cook the food immediately after thawing.

Kitchen gadgets such as thawing trays made of superconductive metal alloys allow frozen food to defrost quickly at room temperature. Follow these tips if you plan to use this gadget:

Be sure the surface of the food lays flat against the tray’s surface.

To remain safe, raw meats and poultry should not be at room temperatures longer than two hours.

Immediately cook the thawed food or refrigerate it immediately and use within one or two days.

Clean the tray after every use with hot, soapy water to prevent cross-contamination of bacteria to other foods.

– Carol Ann Burtness is a food science educator with University of Minnesota Extension.

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