Here's why you really shouldn't defrost meat in the microwave

Yahoo Style UK team
Is defrosting in the microwave bad for your health? [Photo: Getty]
Is defrosting in the microwave bad for your health? [Photo: Getty]

Picture the scene. You get home from work with all the ingredients to cook Jamie Oliver’s chicken Katsu curry. There’s just one problem. You’ve forgotten to defrost the chicken!

Still a quick ten minutes in the microwave should be fine. That’s what the defrost setting is for, right?

Well, wrong according to one food expert who has revealed that there is only one safe way to defrost meat and it’s not using the microwave. Yikes.

Professor Costas Stathopoulos of Abertay University in Dundee has revealed that food should be defrosted in the fridge for several hours if you don’t want to risk consuming dangerous levels of bacteria.

The food scientist revealed his defrosting revelation on an episode of Inside the Factory on BBC Two after presenter Cherry Healy admitted she always uses the defrost setting on her microwave to thaw meat.

According to the Daily Mail, Professor Stathopoulos went on to explain that microwaving frozen meat “is really not the best of techniques.” Before revealing that the standard food hygiene advice is to defrost meat in the fridge.

This method means that the cold temperature slows down bacterial growth.

Advice from Michegan State University also offers caution when using a microwave to defrost food like meat mainly due to the risk of uneven thawing.

“As food is defrosting in the microwave, the edges of the food may begin to warm or slightly cook while the inside of the food remains frozen,” an article on defrosting safety reads. “Uneven thawing is the major food safety concern, which dictates why food must be immediately cooked once it is thawed.”

“During thawing the microwave raises the temperature of food and if it enters the danger zone, 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, bacteria begins to grow and multiply,” it continues.

Frozen food still contains bacteria even though they are inactive, so when a food’s temperature rises, bacteria becomes active once again. Promptly cooking thawed food will kill most bacteria, but the university advises against putting food defrosting in the microwave straight into the fridge.

“Always cook microwave defrosted food immediately,” the site advises. “Be sure to use a food thermometer to make sure food reaches the proper internal temperature during cooking to prevent food borne illness.”

For those of us who leave our frozen meat out on the counter to defrost, Professor Stathopoulos also has a word of warning that this method isn’t the desired option either.

To illustrate his point he compares two petri dishes which both contain samples of turkey meat. One portion of the meat has been thawed in the fridge, while the other was defrosted at room temperature after being left on the kitchen counter.

The experiment shockingly reveals that turkey left at room temperature has twice the bacteria of the meat that has been left to thaw in the fridge, including ecoli micro-organisms.

It isn’t the first time that defrosting methods have fallen under the spotlight. Susanne Ekstedt, a researcher at the SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden in Gothenburg, previously revealed that it is best to thaw food in water if you’re planning to use it straight away.

With the best method being to seal your food in plastic and warm it up using cold water straight from the tap (this is because water is pretty conductive).

“This is something food scientists have known to be true for a long time now. But this knowledge is mostly confined to the food industry. Most people don’t seem to be aware of this,’” Ekstedt told the Metro.

The Food Standards Agency has produced a handy table of tips to help people understand the best way to defrost their food.

“Ideally, plan ahead to leave enough time and space to defrost small amounts of food in the fridge,” the site reads.

“Putting food in the fridge will keep it at a safe temperature while it is defrosting.”

It goes on to say that if food cannot be defrosted in the fridge it could be put in a container and then placed under cold running water.

“Cold water will help to speed up defrosting without allowing the outside of the food to get too warm.”

But the site goes on to warn that “raw meat and poultry (including large joints and whole birds), should not be defrosted under cold running water unless they are in a sealed container.”

This is because harmful bacteria could be spread, contaminating sinks, taps and surfaces.

Experts are divided about the safest way to defrost meat [Photo: Getty]
Experts are divided about the safest way to defrost meat [Photo: Getty]

How to safely defrost foods isn’t the only thing confusing people, what to actually put in the freezer has some of us stumped too.

While we know there are certain foods we keep in the fridge that we know we really shouldn’t, when it comes to knowing the foods you can and can’t freeze some of us are completely in the dark.

“People can get quite confused when it comes to understanding what can and can’t be frozen, this is mainly down to food labelling,” Stuart Benson, Sales Director of Gorenje UK told Yahoo Style UK. “Unless it expressly states that it can be frozen, people will quite often shy away from doing so.”

But there are some surprising food stuffs that freeze amazingly well and could reboot your whole kitchen ethos.

While equally some foods (and drinks) die a horrible death if they are frozen. Think soggy salad leaves, flavourless fruit and fizzy drink explosions.

Who knew freezing and defrosting could be such a tricky topic?

Follow us on Instagram and Facebook for non-stop inspiration delivered fresh to your feed, every day. For Twitter updates, follow @YahooStyleUK.

Read more from Yahoo Style UK:

Parents are being urged to count the calories in their children’s snacks

We’re ruining cheese boards without realising

Woman documents £450 meal online so we can live vicariously through her