General Freezing Information
Thawing and Preparing Foods for Serving
Food must be kept at a safe temperature during defrosting. Foods are
safe indefinitely while frozen; however, as soon as food begins
to defrost and become warmer than 40°F, any bacteria that may have
been present before freezing can begin to multiply. Never thaw food at
room temperature or in warm water. Even though the center of a package
may still be frozen as it thaws on the counter or in the warm water, the
outer layer of the food is in the "Danger Zone," between 40
and 140°F. These are temperatures where bacteria multiply rapidly.
Thaw food in the refrigerator at 40°F or less, in cold running water
less than 70°F, or in the microwave if you'll be cooking or serving
Thawing in the refrigerator takes the longest time and
advance planning. A large frozen item like a turkey requires at least
a day (24 hours) for every 5 pounds of weight. Even small amounts of frozen
food –- such as a pound of ground meat or boneless chicken breasts
–- require a full day to thaw. When thawing foods in the refrigerator,
there are several variables to take into account:
- Some areas of an appliance may keep the food colder than other
areas. Food placed in the coldest part will require longer defrosting
- Food takes longer to thaw in a refrigerator set at 35°F than
one set at 40°F.
Thawing in cold water requires less time but more attention
than thawing in the refrigerator. This should only be used if the water
is kept cold (less than 70°F) and the food will thaw in under 2 hours.
The food must be in a leak-proof package or plastic bag. If the bag leaks,
bacteria from the air or surrounding environment could be introduced into
the food. Also, meat tissue can also absorb water like a sponge, resulting
in a watery product. As an alternative to constantly running water, the
bag of food could be submerged in cold tap water, changing the water every
30 minutes as the food continues to thaw.
Thawing in the microwave oven produces some uneven heating
patterns. Some parts of a food may actually start to cook before other
sections completely thaw. Holding partially cooked food is not recommended
because any bacteria present wouldn't have been destroyed and, indeed,
may have reached optimal temperatures for bacteria to grow. Use the microwave
when the food will be cooked immediately after thawing, or for thawing
ready-to-eat fruits immediately before serving.
When serving frozen fruits for dessert, serve them while there are still
a few ice crystals in the fruit. This helps compensate for the mushy texture
frozen fruits have when thawed.
Frozen fruit in the package can be thawed in the refrigerator, under
running water, or in a microwave oven if thawed immediately before use.
Turn the package several times for more even thawing. Allow 6 to 8 hours
in the refrigerator for thawing a 1 pound package of fruit packed in syrup.
Allow ½ to 1 hour for thawing in running cool water.
Fruit packed with dry sugar thaws slightly faster than that packed in
syrup. Both sugar and syrup packs thaw faster than unsweetened packs.
Thaw only as much as you need at one time. If you have leftover thawed
fruit, it will keep better if you cook it. To cook, first thaw fruits
until pieces can be loosened; then cook as you would cook fresh fruit.
If there is not enough juice to prevent scorching, add water as needed.
When using frozen fruits in cooking, allowance should be made for any
sugar that was added at the time of freezing. Frozen fruits often have
more juice than called for in recipes for baked products using fresh fruits.
In that case, use only part of the juice or add more thickening for the
Suggested Uses for Frozen Fruits
- Frozen fruits can be used the same as fresh fruits in preparing
pies, upside down cakes, sherbets, ices and salads. Some fruits, especially
boysenberries, make better jellies when frozen than when fresh, because
freezing and thawing cause the juices to be released from the cells and
the natural fruit color dissolves in the juice.
- Serve crushed fruit the same as raw fruit after it is partially
or completely thawed; use it after thawing as a topping for ice cream
or cake or a filling for sweet rolls or for jam.
- Use thawed pureés in puddings, ice cream, sherbets, jams,
pies, ripple cakes, fruit filled coffee cakes and rolls.
- Use frozen fruit juice as a beverage after it is thawed but while
it is still cold. Some juices, such as sour cherry, plum, grape and
berry can be diluted 1/3 to ½ with water or a bland juice.
Most frozen vegetables should be cooked without thawing first. Corn on
the cob should be partially thawed before cooking in order for the cob
to be heated through by the time the corn is cooked. Letting the corn
sit after thawing or cooking causes sogginess. Leafy greens, such as turnip
greens and spinach, cook more evenly if partially thawed before cooking.
To cook, bring water to a boil in a covered saucepan. The amount of water
needed depends on the vegetable and the size of the package. It is important
to use as little water as possible, because some nutrients dissolve into
the water. For most vegetables, ½ cup of water is enough for a
pint package. Any frost in the package furnishes some additional moisture.
Place the frozen vegetables in boiling water, cover the pan and bring
the water quickly back to a boil. To insure uniform cooking, it may be
necessary to separate pieces carefully with a fork. When the water is
boiling throughout the pan, reduce the heat and cook until done. Be sure
the pan is covered to keep in the steam, which aids in cooking. Cook gently
until vegetables are just tender. Add seasonings as desired and serve
immediately or use in casseroles.
Meat, Fish and Poultry – Meat, fish and
poultry can be cooked from the frozen or thawed stage. Frozen meats, fish
and poultry are best when thawed in the refrigerator in their original
wrappings. For faster thawing, place the meat or fish in waterproof wrapping
in cold, slowly running water. If you can’t keep water running slowly
over the package, place in a large container of cold water. Change the
water at least every 30 minutes, or as needed so that it stays cold. Frozen
meat, fish or poultry can also be thawed in a microwave oven, if they
will be cooked immediately after thawing.
If meat, fish or poultry is cooked without thawing, additional time must
be allowed. How much depends on the size and shape of the product. Large
frozen roasts could take up to 1½ times as long.
When frozen meat, fish or poultry are to be breaded and fried, they should
be at least partially thawed in the refrigerator first, for easier handling.
All poultry which is to be stuffed should be thawed completely for safety.
For best quality cook thawed meat or fish immediately.
Butter, Eggs, Milk and Cheese – Place
the frozen product in the refrigerator to thaw. After thawing, it can
be used as fresh.
Cream – Thaw the same as butter, but
before using the thawed cream, it should be mixed or blended slightly.
Prepared or Cooked Foods
Most cooked or prepared foods do not have to be thawed before heating.
Food can be reheated in the oven to preserve its texture. Be careful not
to put a cold glass container into a preheated oven, unless its manufacturer
specifies that it is freezer to oven safe. For speedy reheating of products
such as noodle casseroles, without excessive stirring, heat the food in
a double boiler. Start with warm, not hot, water in the lower pan so the
food will not stick. This prevents the casserole from becoming "mush".
Cassseroles, soups, stews and leftovers should be heated to at least 165°F
in the center prior to serving.
Products containing meat, fish, poultry, eggs or dairy products should
be thawed in the refrigerator or in the microwave oven. These products
could cause food poisoning if they stay at room temperature for more than
2 to 4 hours.
Precooked breads, cakes and cookies can be thawed at room temperature.
This document was adapted from "So Easy to Preserve", 5th ed. 2006. Bulletin
989, Cooperative Extension Service, The University of Georgia, Athens.
Revised by Elizabeth L. Andress. Ph.D. and Judy A. Harrison, Ph.D., Extension
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