When you’re preparing for a family gathering or laying out meat for your weekly meals, you may have to set meat out of your freezer to thaw. Before you know it, hours have passed, and your meat is still on the counter.
So, exactly how long can you leave the meat out to thaw? Generally speaking, meat can be left out for up to two hours but should not exceed this time limit. After two hours at room temperature, harmful bacteria that could make you sick may begin to grow on your meat.
We’ve all been in a situation where we accidentally left the meat out too long and debated on disposing of it. As a rule of thumb, if you are approaching this two-hour mark, you should probably go ahead and toss it for the safety of your family and friends.
Why Should Meat Only Be Left Out To Thaw For Less Than Two Hours?
We’ve all probably eaten some questionable things in our lives, but meat that has been left out too long to thaw should not be one of them. Many dangerous processes can take place from the time you lay the meat out to thaw until you consume it.
- By the time meat reaches temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, harmful bacteria have started to grow on its surface.
- While the meat’s center may still be frozen, the outside can enter the “Danger Zone” of 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Different areas of the meat that are thicker may reach dangerous temperatures before thinner areas.
- Meat that has reached temperatures that are too hot can cause vomiting, diarrhea, upset stomach, cramps, and fever after harmful bacteria have started to grow.
How to Properly Thaw Out Meat
There are many ways in which meat can be thawed out safely and effectively. Popular methods include using:
- Your Refrigerator
- The Microwave
- Cold Water
Any perishable foods that are being set out at room temperature should be thawed under the following guidelines to prevent foodborne illness.
- Thaw in the refrigerator at a steady, constant temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.
- Plan to give your meat enough time to thaw in the refrigerator at this temperature.
- After thawing, high-quality meat can stay in the refrigerator for up to two days before cooking.
- Food in the fridge that has been previously thawed can also be safely re-thawed, although it may go down in quality and flavor.
- When thawing in cold water, use a leak-proof package.
- After using the microwave to thaw meat, cook immediately afterward.
No matter which thawing method you use for your frozen meat, there are suggested guidelines that can help you prevent bacteria and illness while doing so. After all, freezing your meat is a great way to save money. You just want to make sure you can thaw it safely, too.
Can I Cook Meat From a Frozen State?
If you’re worried about not having enough time to thaw your meat safely, the best decision you can make is to forgo it. When there is any chance your meat could sit out too long on the kitchen counter or in the sink, it may be a better idea to cook it from a frozen state.
Is this safe, though? It sure is. Make sure to allow up to 50% longer to cook frozen meat compared to similar cooking methods from a thawed state in these circumstances.
There are some opponents to cooking meat from a frozen state. They argue that parts of the meat may remain at a colder temperature than others for too long. Yet, if you aren’t taking more than two hours to cook your meat, this shouldn’t be an issue.
The main thing to remember is that your frozen meat should be placed directly into your cooking equipment of choice, so it doesn’t have a chance to thaw at all. If you leave it out for too long, you may be faced with meat that has entered the “danger zone” of a temperature that is too hot.
To make it easier to cook frozen meat, be sure to separate it into smaller bags before freezing. This can help reduce the amount of time necessary to cook the meat, and it can be done evenly.
What Is The Best Way To Thaw Meat Quickly and Safely?
Heat water in a pot on the stove to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Put your meat in sealed storage bags and place it in the water for up to 45 minutes. Usually, it doesn’t take this long to thaw the meat, though.
What Happens If You Defrost Meat For Too Long?
Even if you’ve chosen a safe method of thawing meat, there can be consequences for defrosting it for too long, too. When you’ve left your meat in the fridge too long, it isn’t necessarily dangerous. Yet, the meat can become tough, hard to chew, and drier after you’ve cooked it.
This is a risk you simply have to take when you defrost meat in your fridge at a safe temperature. The process takes a while, so the chances of your meat drying out during this time is high. You can defrost meat in your fridge faster when it has been packaged in smaller portions.
If you defrost your meat for too long in any other setting, such as in the microwave, sink, or on the counter, it must be disposed of.
What Happens If You Leave Meat Out Overnight?
This has happened to the best of us. If you’ve forgotten your meat at room temperature overnight, you simply need to throw it out. At this point, it may have already developed a smell or discoloration, as well.
Can I Refreeze Raw Meat After It Has Been Defrosted?
No, once your meat has left an area with a safe temperature but hasn’t been cooked you cannot refreeze it. This is only the case when your meat hasn’t been taken out of the refrigerator after thawing. At this point, it would need to be cooked thoroughly or discarded.
Nobody wants to get sick from consuming meat that has been set out to thaw for too long. Following these general tips can help you avoid any health hazards from unsafe meat preparation.