Editor’s note: An ongoing outbreak of Salmonella Reading traced to raw turkey has sickened at least 164 people across 35 states, hospitalizing dozens and killing one person. The outbreak patients report links to raw turkey, but there is concern that other consumers may have purchased raw turkey in advance and frozen it for use during the holidays. The below steps for safe thawing are from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. The USDA reports at least 22 slaughter plants and 7 turkey processing plants have been found to be contaminated with the outbreak strain of Salmonella. The the outbreak strain has also been confirmed in live turkeys, raw turkey at retail, raw turkey pet food, and raw ground turkey.
As soon as raw or cooked meat, poultry or egg products begin to thaw and become warmer than 40 degrees F, bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to multiply.
Perishable foods should never be thawed on the counter, at room temperature, or in hot water. They must not be left at room temperature for more than two hours. There are safe ways to thaw turkey and other food, including in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave.
Even though the center of the food may still be frozen as it thaws on the counter, the outer layer of the food can easily be in the “Danger Zone,” between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F. The danger zone allows bacteria to multiply rapidly.
Also, Remove the giblets from the turkey cavities after thawing. Cook giblets separately.
Do not wash raw turkey or another raw poultry or meat before preparing it. Washing can’t remove bacteria and other pathogens. Also, water droplets can contaminate surfaces, dish towels, aprons, utensils and virtually anything else in the kitchen. Always thoroughly wash hands, utensils, the sink, and anything else that comes in contact with raw turkey and its juices with soap and water.
|In the Refrigerator (40 °F or below)
Allow approximately 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds
|4 to 12 pounds||1 to 3 days|
|12 to 16 pounds||3 to 4 days|
|16 to 20 pounds||4 to 5 days|
|20 to 24 pounds||5 to 6 days|
- Planning ahead is the key because a large frozen turkey requires at least 24 hours for every 5 pounds.
- Small amounts of frozen food — such as a pound of ground meat or boneless chicken breasts — require a full day to thaw
- Food will take longer to thaw in a refrigerator set at 35 °F than one set at 40 °F.
- After thawing in the refrigerator, items such as ground meat, stew meat, poultry, seafood, should remain safe and good quality for an additional day or two before cooking.
- Red meat cuts (such as beef, pork or lamb roasts, chops and steaks) should remain safe and good quality 3 to 5 days.
- Food thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking, although there may be some loss of quality.
Cold Water Thawing
|In Cold Water
Allow approximately 30 minutes per pound
|4 to 12 pounds||2 to 6 hours|
|12 to 16 pounds||6 to 8 hours|
|16 to 20 pounds||8 to 10 hours|
|20 to 24 pounds||10 to 12 hours|
- This method is faster than refrigerator thawing but requires more attention.
- The food must be in a leak-proof package or plastic bag. If the bag leaks, bacteria from the air or surrounding environment could be introduced into the food. Also, the meat tissue may absorb water, resulting in a watery product.
- The bag should be submerged in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes so it continues to thaw.
- Small packages of meat, poultry or seafood — about a pound — may thaw in 1 hour or less.
- A 3-to 4-pound package may take 2 to 3 hours. For whole turkeys, estimate about 30 minutes per pound.
- Once thawed food must be cooked immediately. Foods thawed by the cold water method should be cooked before refreezing.
- After thawing in the microwave, always cook immediately, whether microwave cooking, by conventional oven, or grilling.
- Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present wouldn’t have been destroyed and, indeed, the food may have reached optimal temperatures for bacteria to grow.
- Foods thawed in the microwave should be cooked before refreezing.
- Also, never thaw foods in a garage, basement, car, dishwasher or plastic garbage bag; out on the kitchen counter, outdoors or on the porch. These methods can leave your foods unsafe to eat.
Cooking Without Thawing
- It is safe to cook foods from the frozen state.
- The cooking will take approximately 50% longer than the recommended time for fully thawed or fresh meat and poultry.
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