FROM PHIL LEMPERT, SUPERMARKET GURU:
It’s important to be sure you thaw and defrost foods properly.
Upon removal of frozen food items from the freezer, bacteria start multiplying within the dangerous zone (40 degrees Fahrenheit to 140 degrees Fahrenheit). Therefore, the defrosting process should be looked at as a race between you and bacteria with the aim of completing the defrosting process in a way that maintains the taste and nutritive value of the food before the bacteria exceeds the permitted concentration levels. Bacteria win this race if food is kept for more than two hours within the dangerous zone.
Food safety experts recommend thawing foods in the refrigerator or the microwave oven; or putting the package in a watertight plastic bag submerged in cold water and changing the water every 30 minutes.
Changing the water ensures that the food is kept cold, an important factor for slowing bacterial growth that may occur on the outer thawed portions while the inner areas are still thawing.
When microwaving, follow package directions. Leave about 2 inches (about 5 centimeters) between the food and the inside surface of the microwave to allow heat to circulate. Smaller items will defrost more evenly than larger pieces of food. Foods defrosted in the microwave oven should be cooked immediately after thawing.
Do not thaw meat, poultry and fish products on the counter or in the sink without cold water; bacteria can multiply rapidly at room temperature.
There are four basic ways to thaw: in the refrigerator; in cold tap water; in the microwave; and in the oven. Never set any food out at room temperature to thaw.
Refrigerator (40 degrees Fahrenheit or below): Allow one day for every 4 pounds of whole poultry; one day for a 1-pound package of meat, poultry or seafood; and two or more days for roasts, steaks or ham. Raw or cooked frozen food thawed in a refrigerator is safe to eat if refrozen.
Cold Tap Water: Faster than refrigerator thawing; must cook immediately after thawing. Submerge food in leakproof bags in a bowl of cold tap water. Allow about 1 hour per pound for small packages of food, 30 minutes per pound for whole poultry. Frozen food thawed by the cold-water method but not cooked is not safe to refreeze. You can refreeze it after cooking.
Microwave: Rotate and break up individual items to even the thawing process. For ground meats, scrape off thawed meat and return frozen portion to microwave. Follow manufacturer’s directions for setting your microwave. Cook immediately after thawing; it cannot be refrozen until after cooking.
Oven: Must unwrap the food and cook it as if it were fresh, only allow more time for it to be cooked. This method works best with fish, vegetables, prepared foods and hamburger patties. Use it for poultry, steaks and roasts only in a pinch — flouring and breading won’t stick to a frozen surface and the meat won’t sear properly.