How to defrost chicken safely and other frozen food questions

By author photo Karen Stafford

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How to defrost chicken safely and other frozen food questions

Amid COVID-19 changing the way we live, many people have been stocking up on pantry staples as well as freezable items like chicken and mince. If you’ve got a freezer full of food you might be wondering how long you can keep it for and how to defrost chicken or cook these foods safely. Here’s a quick guide to defrosting food and using frozen food safely.


Safe freezing

Don’t over pack your freezer. It’s important there is enough room for the air to circulate properly and keep your freezer at a constant temperature. So, if your freezer is already looking full, don’t go stocking up on even more food to freeze.

Also bear in mind that the optimal temperature for your freezer is -18oC and some older freezers may struggle to reach this if they are too full or opened too frequently. Some commercial freezers and chest freezers can get even lower than this which can help with better quality freezing and longer keep times. If you test your freezer and it’s not at -18oC then it may impact the quality of food and how long you should keep it frozen.


How long can I store frozen foods?

Technically, chicken and other foods can remain frozen for a few years and still be safe to use however the quality will reduce over time, especially in home fridge/freezer combinations. The quality will remain stable for longer in commercial or chest freezers that can be kept at -18°C.

Here’s some suggested time frames for keeping frozen foods based on when the quality may be impacted:

Red meat 6 months
Mince 3 months
Sausages 2 months
Whole chicken 6 months
Poultry pieces 3-4 months
Fish & Seafood 4 months
Deli meats 1 month
Cooked meals (e.g. casseroles, soups) 2-3 months
Vegetables 8 months
Bread 6 months
Cheese 5 months

Source: Healthy Food Guide


When freezing foods, be sure to record the date they were frozen and keep rotating the products in your freezer so new items go in the back and others to the front to use sooner.


Freezer Burn

When frozen food is exposed to air it can cause large ice crystals to form which may ‘burn’ the food. You’ll know a food has freezer burn because you’ll see the ice crystals or some discolouration on the top of the food. Freezer burn doesn’t mean the food is unsafe to eat but the quality, taste and texture may now be impacted. To avoid freezer burn, be sure to wrap your food tightly or in air tight containers.


How do I defrost frozen chicken and other foods before cooking?

It’s important the foods are kept at a safe temperature while defrosting. Do not leave frozen food to thaw on the bench as even though the centre may still be frozen the outer layers can warm up too quickly meaning bacteria can easily multiply as it sits on the bench. So, defrost in the fridge at 4°C. Depending on the size of the food it could take anywhere from 8 hours, to 1-2 days so it’s important to plan ahead and be prepared with what you need defrosted.

Don’t run foods under hot water to speed up the process. It can bring the temperature of areas of the food up too high and increase the chance of bacteria multiplying.

If you need food defrosted quicker it can be thawed in the microwave, with most microwaves having a ‘thaw’ or ‘defrost’ setting. However, it must be cooked immediately after thawing as some areas of the food may become warm or partially cook, putting it in the danger zone temperature range for bacteria to grow.

Some foods such as vegetables can be cooked straight from frozen with no concerns. Smaller cuts of meat, chicken/poultry or fish may be able to be cooked safely straight from frozen but it would have to be heated for approximately 50% longer than you normally would and ensure the centre has been heated thoroughly.

When reheating foods in the microwave or oven, mix the food well during and after reheating and ensure the core temperature reaches at least 75oC. Buying a kitchen thermometer is a good investment when it comes to food safety.


Can I re-freeze defrosted foods?

Food thawed in the fridge can be re frozen, so long as it has been kept at fridge temperature, although there may be some loss of quality. Food thawed in the microwave can not be re frozen unless it has been fully cooked first. Any food that has been fully cooked after being defrosted can also be safely re frozen.

Remember, when using up your stock of food in the freezer, defrosting in the fridge is the safest method, so it’s best to plan ahead and allow plenty of time to defrost.

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