Never Thaw Meat On The Counter. Here's Why

If you're a regular in the kitchen, it's likely you know the proper way to chop an onion or boil pasta. After all, these two skills are pretty basic when it comes to cooking (even for beginners!). However, there's one skill that's important for any home cook to master, because if not done properly, it can cause severe illness or even death—and that's how to handle raw meat

Most people in the U.S. aren't able to buy fresh meat and cook it on the same day. It's common practice to buy beef, chicken, and pork to freeze and eat later. The problems begin when meat is not thawed properly. Taking meat out of the freezer in the morning to let it thaw on the counter in time for dinner that evening might seem like a time-saving, low effort strategy. But experts at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA) warn that you should never leave meat out at room temperature for more than an hour or two (via USDA).

Three ways to safely thaw meat

When meat is properly processed, transported, and frozen, the harmful bacteria that live inside of it go dormant and can't multiply to dangerous levels (via the University of Illinois Extension). Meat that has been left out on the counter between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit becomes a breeding ground for bacteria that cause food-borne illnesses. If ingested, these bacteria can cause vomiting, diarrhea, intestinal damage, and even death. Properly thawing and cooking meat will help kill the bacteria so the meat is safe to eat. 

Food scientists recommend that meat only be thawed in one of three ways. Thawing meat in the refrigerator might take longer, but it keeps the meat at a safe temperature that prevents bacteria from growing (via North Dakota State University). Another option is to place the meat in a sealed plastic bag and submerge it in cold water. It's important not to let the water get too warm, so replacing the water every 30 minutes or so is best. The third way to safely thaw meat is to microwave it. Keep in mind, however, that if any of the meat gets cooked during the microwaving process, the rest of the meat should be thoroughly cooked right away and never re-frozen. By following these protocols, meat can be a safe and nutritious addition to your meal.