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How to defrost food safely

Most frozen foods need to be defrosted before cooking, and some, such as berries, must be cooked before eating.

Here’s what you need to know to make sure that food is thawed safely.

1. The safest way to defrost food is in the fridge

  • Allow at least 24 hours for every 2-2.5 kg (4-5 lbs).
  • Once the food has thawed, cook or eat it within 24 hours. Do not refreeze it.
  • It is not safe to defrost at room temperature.

2. Defrost food in the microwave only if you are going to cook and eat it straight away

  • When you defrost food in the microwave it can get warm enough to allow harmful bacteria to grow. Cooking the food immediately will kill any bacteria, but if you leave it the bacteria will continue to multiply.
  • Be sure to check the microwave setting and time in your microwave manual.

3. Check the package before defrosting

  • Some food is best cooked from frozen. Follow the manufacturer's instructions on pre-packed foods.

4. Make sure poultry is completely thawed before you cook it

  • If poultry is still partly frozen when you start to cook, it will cook more slowly and might not reach a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria.
  • Check whether the meat feels frozen by using a fork or skewer.
  • When defrosting a whole bird, make sure there are no ice crystals in the cavity.

5. Defrost meat on the bottom shelf of the fridge

  • Put it on a plate away from other foods. When meat thaws, lots of liquid can come out, which can spread bacteria to any food, plates or surfaces that it touches. Keep the meat covered so that it can’t touch or drip onto other foods
  • Only defrost meat in the microwave if you're going to cook and eat it straight away.
  • Cook the raw meat within 24 hours of defrosting.
  • If you defrost raw meat and then cook it, you can freeze it again. Never reheat foods more than once.

6. Do not refreeze food that has defrosted

  • You should never refreeze food that has defrosted.

​7. Always cook frozen berries before using

  • Imported frozen berries should be boiled for 1 minute before eating them or adding them to smoothies. This is because they have been associated with outbreaks of norovirus and hepatitis A across Europe in recent years.
  • This is particularly important when serving them to vulnerable people.

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