Is it safe to defrost meat on the kitchen counter?
In short, the answer is, no it is not safe at all.
The kitchen bench, while a very convenient place to thaw out your steak, is considered to be a 'danger zone' when it comes to defrosting. This is because it encourages bacterial growth to form while frozen items are thawing.
In the case of frozen meats, bacterial growth can become quite harmful and lead to your future dinner being contaminated. Bacteria, like salmonella and E.coli, can lead to foodborne illnesses, which can result in symptoms of vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal cramps. While contracting a foodborne illness is very unlikely, defrosting your meat on the kitchen bench may increase the probability.
So, why is your counter such a haven for bacteria? It all comes down to the 'danger zone'.
What is the danger zone?
The danger zone is a term coined to the temperature range where bacteria grows the fastest. According to USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, bacteria grows fastest when it is in a temperature between 4.4°C – 60°C. And guess where the average temperature of a kitchen bench sits? That's right, smack bang in the middle at 20°C to 25°C.
Because of this danger zone, it is recommended that you do not keep perishable and frozen foods, including frozen meat, on the kitchen counter for more than 1-2 hours.
The three best ways to safely thaw out frozen meat
Since the kitchen bench has been crossed off the list for defrosting meat, what's the next best option? Thawing in the fridge overnight or 24 hours before cooking is always the most popular choice – it's easy, it's safe and you don't have to do any extra steps. The only problem is, it's slow.
There are actually three other great ways to thaw out your meat, which are all quite speedy and simple to tasks to complete. And, the first one will definitely surprise you.
Don't defrost it at all
Defrosting your meat is actually not required at all before cooking. Of course, leaving it in the fridge the morning of will thaw it out a little bit, but even if your forget to do that, popping your beef short ribs straight in the slow cooker should work wonders.
There is a tiny bit of risk when cooking frozen meat and that 'danger zone will reappear if you try to flash cook it and the outside is completely browned while the inside is a frozen chunk. Instead, this method is best done by using a slow cooker, pressure cooker or cooking in the oven on a low temperature. Keep in mind that cooking frozen meat will take almost 50% longer than normal, so add on the extra time when planning out dinner!
Defrost meat in cold water
This is one of the quickest ways to thaw out meat. A cold-water bath for your pork chops can be easily done by placing them in a large pot with ice cold water. There are only three considerations for this method:
- Ensure that your water is very cold, and does not reach the 'danger zone' minimum of 4.4°C.
- Your frozen meat should be properly packaged with no holes or gaps. Having sealed and water-proof packaging around your meat while defrosting means there is no chance of cross-contamination.
- You should only defrost in cold water for under two hours so you don't reach that 'danger zone'. You can, alternatively, change the water every 30 minutes or so to ensure temperature evenness.
Defrost in the microwave
This one is the easiest method by far. Place your meat in the microwave and simply hit the defrost button. You can check it every so often to rotate, flip over or move so every side is able to defrost properly. Of course, after defrosting any meat, especially chicken, it's important to wipe down the microwave to reduce any bacterial spread.
Because microwaved frozen meat is often thawed unevenly, it is recommended to cook immediately so you don't stay in the danger zone for too long.