NC State Extension Publications


Food should be thawed safely to (1) minimize the time that it is in the temperature danger zone (40 to 140°F), and (2) to prevent cross-contamination. Thawing at room temperature on the counter is unsafe. Thawed portions of potentially hazardous foods can support bacterial growth. Potentially hazardous foods are moist, protein-rich foods, such as meats, fish, poultry, rice, and beans.

There are four ways to safely thaw food. The food you are thawing will determine which method you choose.

  1. Thaw in the refrigerator. Note: This method requires advanced planning. For large pieces of meat like a whole turkey or roast, allow 24 hours for each five pounds of meat.
    • Thaw in a refrigerator operating at 40°F or colder.
    • Place food in a pan to prevent dripping.
    • Place the pan of food on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator.
  2. Thaw under drinkable, running water. Note: Use for foods that can be thawed within two hours. This method does not work well with large pieces of food that cannot be safely thawed in two hours.
    • Place the food in a clean, sanitized sink or pot.
    • The water should be running constantly and the temperature of the water should be 70°F or less. Cool running water is required to prevent rapid growth of bacteria and to wash off loose food particles.
  3. Thaw as part of the cooking process.
    • Works well for small amounts of food, such as vegetables, hamburger patties, and seafood.
    • Always cook food to a safe internal temperature.
    • When thawing already cooked foods by this method, always reheat to 165°F.
  4. Thaw in the microwave.
    • Works for small amounts of food and single servings.
    • After thawing in the microwave, immediately cook food in the microwave or by conventional methods.
    • When continuing to cook in the microwave: cover to retain moisture and to prevent spattering
      • rotate food halfway through the cooking cycle
      • stir food
      • allow two minutes standing time before serving food.

Keep food safe by using a safe thawing method.



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Publication date: Nov. 1, 1998

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