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Thaw meat safely

Meat is among the most perishable of foods. It is high in protein and moisture and bacteria that are present prior to freezing can grow quickly when exposed to warm temperatures.

Thawing meat in the refrigerator is one safe defrosting method, as well as thawing in a microwave or under cool water and cooking from the frozen state.

Although it takes a little planning, refrigerator thawing is an easy method. Place your item in a container. Never place a package of frozen meat on a shelf immediately above ready-to-eat foods such as lettuce. You do not want to risk dripping meat juices on foods that will not be cooked.

If you are thawing a turkey or a large roast, you should allow about 24 hours for every five pounds of food. A pound of ground meat usually takes most of a day to thaw.

If you thaw meat in the refrigerator, you do not need to cook it immediately. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, refrigerator-thawed ground meat will remain safe and of good quality for two days, while red meat cuts (roasts, steaks and chops) will retain good quality for up to five days.

Food that is thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen safely, although you lose some quality. For example, the cooked product may be less juicy. Meat that is still partially frozen (as evidenced by ice crystals) usually results in a higher-quality end product after refreezing.

You can thaw packaged meat under cold water. Place the food in a leak-proof plastic bag, and be sure to change the water every 30 minutes. When defrosted this way, a pound of ground meat may thaw in about an hour. Larger packages may take about two to three hours to thaw.

If your plans suddenly change and you will not need to use the meat that you just thawed under cold water, remember this: Food that is thawed under cold water should be cooked prior to freezing. Be sure to package it in freezer wrap, freezer bags or containers in recipe-sized amounts.

You may have thought of microwaving as a defrosting method because most people have this appliance. Be sure to cook microwave-thawed food immediately. Many times, microwave-thawed food becomes warm or may even cook partially during the defrosting time.

Finally, you can safely cook food that is frozen, but remember that it will take at least 50 per cent longer to cook the food. †

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