Thawing and Cooking Foods Safely
Barbara Willenberg, Former Associate State Nutrition Specialist & Jo Britt-Rankin, State Nutrition Specialist, University of Missouri Extension
When thawing foods for cooking, remember it isn't safe to leave perishable foods, like meat, fish, poultry, dairy products and eggs, out of the refrigerator more than two hours. The germs that cause food poisoning grow very fast at room temperature.
Thaw foods in the refrigerator
The best place to thaw perishable foods is in your refrigerator. A good rule of thumb is to move food from your freezer to your refrigerator the day before you cook it. Big pieces of meat, like whole turkeys, will take longer. Remember to put a tray under meat, poultry and fish to keep blood from dripping on other food.
Cold water thaws frozen food
For faster thawing, put frozen food in a water-tight plastic bag and cover it with cold water in a clean kitchen sink. Change the water often so it stays cold. The cold water slows down germ growth on the outer layer of thawing food.
You can also thaw food safely in your microwave. Follow the directions in your microwave's instruction booklet. Cook or refrigerate food right away after microwave thawing.
Do not eat uncooked marinades
Many recipes call for marinating meat or poultry in a liquid before cooking. Marinating should be done in the refrigerator to keep germs from growing. The marinating liquid contains the drippings from the raw meat and should not be served unless it has been cooked. Since most marinades contain an acid like lemon juice or vinegar, glass or plastic containers should be used because metal may react with the acid.
Raw meat has many germs
Germs from raw meat, poultry and fish can get into other foods if you aren't careful about washing everything they've touched before preparing other foods. Using a cutting board for raw meat and then salad vegetables with out washing it often spreads germs. Plastic cutting boards are easier to keep clean than wooden ones. Before serving cooked meat from a dish that has held raw meat, wash it with hot, soapy water. Wash your hands with hot water and soap every time you touch raw perishable food.
Many recipes for cooking meat, fish and poultry are not safe. Avoid recipes that call for:
- Cooking in an oven set below 325 degrees.
- Cooking a large piece of meat in a slow cooker (crock pot).
- Partially cooking food at one time and finishing it later.
- Putting food into boiling liquid and turning off the heat.
- Putting food into a hot oven and turning off the heat.
Use a meat thermometer
The best way to kill germs that cause food poisoning is to cook meat and poultry completely. Using a meat thermometer is the best way to tell if meat or poultry is cooked to a safe temperature. Put the tip of the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat. Don't let it touch fat or bone. For poultry, put the thermometer tip into the thick part of the thigh next to the body. Make sure it is in the dark meat.
If you don't have a meat thermometer, these tips will help you tell when meat is cooked to a safe temperature:
- Stick the meat with a fork and look at the juices. Pork and poultry juice should be clear or golden. Beef juice should be pink.
- Fish should be a solid white and flake easily with a fork.
Cook stuffing separately
Stuffing in poultry is a perfect place for food-poisoning germs to grow. It's warm, moist and the insides of turkeys and chickens usually contain the germs that cause food poisoning. It's safer to cook stuffing separately. If you decide to stuff your turkey or chicken, these tips will help keep it safe:
- Stuff turkey or chicken just before cooking.
- Stuff it loosely.
- Use a meat thermometer in the stuffing to make sure it reaches 165 degrees.
- Remove stuffing from the turkey or chicken before serving.
Cook eggs completely
We now know that even eggs with uncracked shells may contain food-poisoning germs. For this reason, raw or lightly cooked eggs may not be safe to eat, even if the shells are uncracked. Be very careful when serving eggs to babies, the elderly, pregnant women and those who are ill. Food poisoning can be life threatening to them.
To kill any germs, cook eggs until both the yolk and white are firm, not runny. Recipes in which eggs are not completely cooked include: egg-milk drinks, soft-cooked, poached and scrambled eggs, omelets, uncooked salad dressings like mayonnaise, many homemade ice creams, meringues, soft custards, French toast and homemade cooked pudding.
Last Updated 10/25/2007