Why you shouldn't defrost meat in the microwave

Picture the scene. You get home from work with all the ingredients to cook Jamie Oliver’s chicken Katsu curry. There’s just one problem. You’ve forgotten to defrost the chicken!

Still a quick ten minutes in the microwave should be fine. That’s what the defrost setting is for, right?

Well, wrong according to one food expert who has revealed that there is only one safe way to defrost meat and it’s not using the microwave.

Professor Costas Stathopoulos of Abertay University in Dundee has revealed food should be defrosted in the fridge for several hours if you don’t want to risk consuming dangerous levels of bacteria.

defrosting meat

Experts warn not to defrost your meat in the microwave. Photo: Getty

On an episode of Inside the Factory on BBC Two Professor Stathopoulos explained that microwaving frozen meat “is really not the best of techniques.”

Instead the standard food hygiene advice is to defrost meat in the fridge. This method means that the cold temperature slows down bacterial growth.

Advice from Michegan State University also offers caution when using a microwave to defrost food like meat mainly due to the risk of uneven thawing.

“As food is defrosting in the microwave, the edges of the food may begin to warm or slightly cook while the inside of the food remains frozen,” an article on defrosting safety reads.

do not defrost meat in microwave

Defrosting in the microwave can increase bacteria levels. Photo: Getty

“Uneven thawing is the major food safety concern, which dictates why food must be immediately cooked once it is thawed.”

“During thawing the microwave raises the temperature of food and if it enters the danger zone (four to 60 degrees) bacteria begins to grow and multiply,” it continues.

Frozen food still contains bacteria even though they are inactive, so when a food’s temperature rises, bacteria becomes active once again.

Promptly cooking thawed food will kill most bacteria, but the university advises against putting food defrosting in the microwave straight into the fridge.

defrosting tips

Defrosting in the fridge is also better than room temperature. Photo: Getty

“Always cook microwave defrosted food immediately,” the site advises. “Be sure to use a food thermometer to make sure food reaches the proper internal temperature during cooking to prevent food borne illness.”

For those of us who leave our frozen meat out on the counter to defrost, Professor Stathopoulos also has a word of warning revealing that the counter meat could end up with twice the bacteria compared to the fridge.

It isn’t the first time that defrosting methods have fallen under the spotlight. Susanne Ekstedt, a researcher at the SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden in Gothenburg, previously revealed that it is best to thaw food in water if you’re planning to use it straight away.

With the best method being to seal your food in plastic and warm it up using cold water straight from the tap (this is because water is pretty conductive).

defrosting

Defrosted food should be cooked straight away. Photo: Getty

“This is something food scientists have known to be true for a long time now. But this knowledge is mostly confined to the food industry. Most people don’t seem to be aware of this,’” Ekstedt told the Metro.

The Food Standards Agency has produced a handy table of tips to help people understand the best way to defrost their food.

The site warns that “raw meat and poultry (including large joints and whole birds), should not be defrosted under cold running water unless they are in a sealed container.”

This is because harmful bacteria could be spread, contaminating sinks, taps and surfaces.

Who knew defrosting could be such a tricky topic?

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