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.
Learning how to properly defrost chicken only takes a few moments. It won’t only make your meal taste better — it’ll ensure that you feel good after eating it.
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 (USDA), the strains of bacteria most likely to be found on raw chicken are:
These are bacteria that can, at best, make you sick. At worst, they can kill you. Proper thawing practices and cooking chicken to an internal temperature of 165ºF (74ºC) will considerably reduce your risks.
- Don’t thaw meat on your kitchen counter. Bacteria thrive at room temperature.
- Don’t rinse chicken under running water. This can splash bacteria around your kitchen, leading to cross-contamination.
There are three safe ways to thaw chicken, according to the USDA. One method 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 140ºF (4.4 and 60ºC), 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. To use this method:
- Place the chicken in a leakproof plastic bag. This 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. Submerge the bagged chicken.
- 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 in the oven or on the stove. The drawback? It will take a little longer — usually, by about 50 percent.
The USDA doesn’t advise cooking frozen chicken in a slow cooker. Thawing the chicken first is advised, and then cooking it in a crockpot can be a great way to make a tasty meal. Start it early in the day, and it’ll 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.