How to Defrost Chicken the Safe Way

Medically reviewed by Peggy Pletcher, MS, RD, LD, CDE on June 29, 2015Written by Anna Schaefer

It’s almost dinnertime, and the chicken is still in the freezer. Food safety often becomes an afterthought in these situations, partly because people don’t take foodborne illness seriously until they’re the ones suffering.

Foodborne illness is serious and potentially deadly: Around 3,000 Americans die from it every year.

Learning how to properly defrost chicken only takes a few moments and won’t only make your meal taste better, but it will ensure that you feel good after eating it.

The Dangers of Improperly Handled Chicken

Foodborne illness is dangerous, and chicken has the potential to make you quite sick if not handled correctly. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the strains of bacteria most likely to be found on your raw chicken are: salmonella, staphylococcus aureus, E. coli, and listeria.

These are bacteria that can, at best, make you sick, and at worst, kill you. Proper thawing practices and cooking chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit will considerably reduce your risks.


4 Safe Ways to Defrost Chicken

There are three safe ways to thaw chicken, according to the USDA, and one method that skips thawing altogether.

Use the Microwave

This is the fastest method, but remember: Chicken must be cooked immediately after you thaw it using a microwave. That’s because microwaves heat poultry to a temperature between 40 and 140 degrees, which bacteria thrive in. Only cooking the chicken to proper temperatures will kill the potentially dangerous bacteria.

Use Cold Water

This should take two to three hours. Place the chicken in a leak-proof plastic bag, which will stop the water from damaging the meat tissue as well as any bacteria from infecting the food. Fill a large bowl or your kitchen sink with cold water, and submerge the chicken bag. Change out the water every 30 minutes.

Use a Refrigerator

This method requires the most preparation, but it’s the most highly recommended. Chicken typically takes a full day to thaw, so plan your meals in advance. Once thawed, the poultry can remain in the refrigerator for a day or two before cooking.

Don’t Thaw at All!

According to the USDA, it’s perfectly safe to cook chicken without thawing it. The drawback? It will take a little longer — usually, by about 50 percent. Want to really save prep time? Put frozen chicken in a crockpot. Start it early in the day and it will be ready to eat by dinnertime.

Proper handling of poultry meat will reduce the risk of foodborne illness for you and your family. Get in the habit of planning your meals 24 hours in advance, and you’ll have no trouble ensuring that your poultry is ready to cook when dinnertime rolls around. 

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