It’s the faster way to defrost food — there are even specific settings for it — but some experts say we shouldn’t use microwaves to thaw meat.
In a recent study from the Abertay University in Scotland, food scientist Costas Stathopoulos said you should never leave your meat on the counter or put it in the microwave to defrost, according to the Daily Mail.
In fact, the best way to defrost meat, Stathopoulos claims, is by leaving it in the fridge.
Professor Keith Warriner at the University of Guelph in Ontario, says the Scottish university’s study is only partially true.
“The best way to defrost foods is in a sink of cold water as the heat transfer is much faster and consistent,” he tells Global news.
“Defrosting in the fridge is better than a microwave or counter top, although there remains a risk of the centre being frozen when it comes to cooking.”
Warriner adds that leaving your food out on the counter or not having control over the temperature can lead to the growth of bacteria like staphylococcus aureus.
One of the biggest examples of this bacteria spreading (and quickly, for that matter), was in 2013, when more than 150 people became sick after eating a cronut burger at the the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto.
Warriner says this outbreak was the perfect example of what happens when you allow bacteria to grow and multiply on meat in a room above 10 C.
Importance of defrosting
Health Canada says defrosting is an important part of cooking because it reduces the risk of food poisoning.
“Meat, poultry, fish and seafood must reach a safe internal cooking temperature to kill bacteria in the meat,” Health Canada notes. “If food is not thawed properly, bacteria that may have been present on their surface before freezing can begin to multiply.”
The Health Canada site notes that some people are more at risk for food poisoning, including seniors, children under five and pregnant women.
Warriner says the other concern around defrosting is that most people don’t know how long to defrost particular types of meat.
“It can take up to three days to defrost a turkey,” he says, adding you should always read labels when it comes to thawing.
Is the microwave safe?
According to Health Canada, a microwave should only be used as a defrosting method if you are cooking the meat right away.
And make sure you remove any material, including plastic wraps, packaging, cartons or polystyrene trays, before placing the frozen meat in the microwave.
“Use a clean container or platter to collect any juices that leak out of the food. This will help prevent the contamination of the microwave. Place the meat in the container and cover with a lid or plastic wrap that doesn’t touch the food,” the site notes. “Leave a small gap for steam to escape.”
Warriner says the problem with using microwaves as your main source of defrosting is the misconception that microwaves heat things from inside out.
“[This] isn’t correct,” Warriner says. “You will notice [when you use a microwave] the outside gets dry because it heats up. But if you defrost something like chili or stew … this isn’t bad.”
Other safety measures
Health Canada notes the safest way to defrost meat is by putting it in the fridge. Defrosting poultry in the fridge takes about 24 hours for each 2.5 kg (or five pounds) of meat, Health Canada says.
Warriner says whatever method you choose, there are other ways to ensure your meat is safe for consumption.
Invest in a meat thermometer and always keep your cooking area sanitized, he says.
Clean out your fridge often, scrub down any counters, and avoid leaving anything open on counter tops — Warriner adds. Sometimes even pets can touch uncooked meat that’s left out.