The Safest Way to Defrost Ground Beef

The Safest Way to Defrost Ground Beef

Advice from Microbac Food Microbiologist Trevor Craig

Freezing and thawing meat is convenient and economical for most households. However, the process of thawing out these products to cook can be a major stressor.

The biggest thawing event of the year takes place (and considerable refrigerator space) during the days leading up to Thanksgiving. But we are not here today to talk turkey. With the average family of four consuming over 100 lbs. per year, we are here to talk ground beef. We are joined by Trevor Craig, a Food Microbiologist at Microbac. Among his extensive experience, Trevor spent four years in food ingredient research and development with a focus on ingredients that reduced bacterial growth and increasing bioavailability in human and animal feed. In this interview, Trevor delivers his subject matter expertise to ensure safety and reduce food spoilage when handling and preparing frozen ground beef.

Q&A With Microbac Food Microbiologist Trevor Craig

Q: Please detail the step-by-step instructions for defrosting ground beef using the refrigerator

A: Frozen meat can be placed in your refrigerator and allowed to thaw. Most ground meat will only take 12-24 hours to be thawed enough for cooking.  Large amounts might need about 2-3 days to thaw. I recommend placing your thawing meat in a second container or towards the bottom of your fridge so that as it thaws, nothing drips on anything below. While you’re likely to cook the meat to levels that allow safe consumption, meat drippings (and bacteria) can drip on foods that may not be cooked or contaminate your surfaces.

Q: Please detail the step-by-step instructions for defrosting ground beef using cold water

A: If you can’t wait a day to thaw, you can place wrapped ground beef into cold water. Be careful by using sealed packages and not paper, as leaking or dissolving or packages will contaminate the water. Keeping the water running can be wasteful, so placing frozen ground beef in a bowl of cold water is effective. Change the water about every 30 minutes and most products will be thawed in just a few hours. Never use warm water to thaw meat, as it provides a perfect environment for bacteria to grow. Make sure that the container with water and meat is left in the sink and off counters to help control any potential splashes that could contaminate surfaces.

Q: Please detail the step-by-step instructions for defrosting ground beef using the microwave

A: This is a little trickier depending on your microwave. Most microwaves have a defrost setting or button, so you can use that. The key here is to use low power setting for short bursts until thawed. Most meat needs about 8 minutes per lb but that can differ by microwave or cut of meat. Microwave thawing can also be difficult, as it can cause more delicate meats to get mushy and can cause some “cooking” that will affect your final meal.

Q: Can you safely refreeze meat after it’s been thawed?

A: A tricky question. If you thaw meat in the refrigerator for a day, then yes – you can refreeze meat. Thawing in water or the microwave should be used immediately. Meat that has been thawed for several days is not recommended to go back into freezers. Usually, the refreezing process will cause adverse effects in the taste and texture of the product. Freezing is not a sterilization method for bacteria – it will not kill all the bacteria or pathogens in a product. If a product is put into situations where bacteria counts can rise, they will remain high even after refreezing.

Q: What’s the biggest mistake that people make when trying to thaw ground beef and how can it be avoided?

A: Probably the biggest problem is people assuming that freezing will completely kill bacteria. While freezing might kill off some bacteria, most bacteria and pathogens will be stalled out and not continue to grow. The other issue is placing meat out at room temperature on a counter or using warm water to thaw. These conditions are perfect for bacteria to replicate and can contaminate the product and your kitchen surfaces. Once a countertop is contaminated, it is not hard for it to be transferred to other surfaces, foods, and eventually to humans. It may be a hassle and harder to plan ahead to thaw meat properly, but a late dinner is much better than a serious illness or even death due to E. coli, Salmonella, or Listeria.

Q: In addition to your professional expertise as a Food Microbiologist at Microbac Laboratories, can you recommend additional resources to all the parents with younger children and to those folks that are more vulnerable to the dangers of consuming frozen ground beef that is not prepared properly?

A: The CDC and USDA – Food Safety and Inspection Service provide a lot of detailed guidance, which is my primary source of direction when I prepare my own food in the kitchen and on the backyard grill.

From farm to fork, Microbac helps our clients manage food quality and safety risks to protect consumers.

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