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Kitchen Notes

Freezing Meats

by Michael Chu
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How long can meat be safely frozen? What is freezer burn and how do I avoid it? How do I safe thaw meat? I'll discuss these questions and more in this article on freezing meats.

Freezing Duration
Frozen meats can be safely frozen indefinitely as long as your freezer maintains a temperature of 0°F or lower. At this temperature, bacteria, yeasts, and molds are inactive (not destroyed). Freezing meat simply stops the clock when microbes are concerned. So, if a piece of meat is about to go bad when you freeze it, it's about to go bad when after you thaw it. It's best to freeze fresh meat shortly after purchase unless you plan on using it.

Enzymes are not stopped by freezing, but merely slowed down, so the quality of the food may diminish over time. This is not a safety issue, but a food quality conern.

Freezer Burn
An avoidable quality detractor is freezer burn. Freezer burn occurs when air comes in contact with the surface of the food. Frozen water on the surface or just under the surface sublimates (like evaporation except going from solid directly to vapor) into the air. (This is the same reason why ice cubes slowly "disappear" in the freezer.) This causes moisture to be lost from the meat over time resulting in discoloration and a dry, leathery texture. The meat is still safe to eat, but the freezer burned sections won't taste good. Simply cut the affected portions off before or after cooking.

The risk of freezer burn can be minimized by good packaging. Although you can safely freeze meat in the packaging provided by the market, the plastic used are usually air permeable. Repacking the meat so that as little air as possible comes into direct contact with the food will reduce the chances of freezer burn. Some effective solutions are to pack the meat in liquid (like chicken parts in broth), vacuum sealing, wrapping in heavy-duty aluminum foil, or using a plastic freezer bag.

Packaging Meat For Freezing
Here's how I freeze inidividual pieces of meat:
First I place the a portion of meat onto a large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil.

Fold two sides over so they meet in the center. Take the overlapping foil and fold in half to form a seal that runs along the package. Fold again in half in the same direction to form a double seal.

Flatten the open ends to form two flaps. If the flaps are long enough to overlap, fold them over the meat and fold the overlap in half to form a seal. Fold again to form a double seal (as shown below). If the flaps are not long enough to overlap, simply fold each flap in half and once again to seal the ends. The foil should fit tightly against the meat.

After all the meat has been wrapped, label a plastic freezer bag and place foil wrapped meat inside. Squeeze as much air as possible out of the bag and seal. Plastic bags that are not rated for freezing may be gas permeable and may result in freezer burn if frozen for longer than two months.

Wrapping the meat in aluminum foil first keeps portions separate, seals each piece of meat, and allows me to selectively thaw or refreeze portions. When freezing meat in liquid (for example, chicken pieces in broth), I just place the meat and liquid in a freezer bag and make sure that the meat is either in direct contact to the bag or covered by the liquid during freezing.

There are a few safe methods of thawing meat, but only one way that allows you to refreeze the meat if you don't use it. Thawed meat inside the refrigerator is safe to be refrozen as long as the refrigerator maintains a temperature of 40°F or less.

1. Refrigerator - Takes a long time to thaw (one or two days for modest sized meats, 5 hours per pound for large meats like whole chicken or turkey). Results in an even thaw (same temperature throughout once it is done). Can be frozen after thawing.

2. Cold Water Bath - Place the meat in a leak proof bag and submerge in cold water until defrosted. Change the water every 30 minutes to an hour for the duration of the thaw. Cook the meat immediately. Do not refreeze.

3. Microwave Oven - Follow the directions provided with your microwave oven when defrosting. Meat usually comes out unevenly defrosted, so some parts may be warm (a prime breeding ground for microbes). Cook immediately. Do not refreeze.
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Written by Michael Chu
Published on September 01, 2004 at 05:53 AM
64 comments on Freezing Meats:(Post a comment)

On December 08, 2005 at 02:52 AM, an anonymous reader said...
Great read.... this topic seems to have many old time wive's tales though. I recently saw a Chef from TBS "Dinner and a Movie" segment that made a point of saying meat in the freezer is not in suspended animation, but instead in a state of slow degradation.

On December 08, 2005 at 02:52 AM, Joe (guest) said...
I recently got an inexpensive aluminum grill/griddle (the kind that spans two burners on a stove), and was interested to see that it was also advertised as a great thawing device.

Indeed, a couple of weeks ago we thawed some rock-hard frozen swordfish on the thing in under an hour. I guess the conductive properties of the griddle radiate away cold very effectively.

On December 08, 2005 at 02:53 AM, Michael Chu said...
Old wives' tales? The United States Department of Agriculture states "Food stored constantly at 0°F will always be safe. Only the quality suffers with lengthy freezer storage. Freezing keeps food safe by slowing the movement of molecules, causing microbes to enter a dormant stage." Are you going to trust a chef on TV or an engineer who is obsessed with reading about cooking (or the government)? :) Hmmm, come to think of it, none of those are comforting sources of information. If you're concerned, then eat your frozen meats within six months - chances are the quality will be better anyway.



That sounds like a great tip! I'll have to try it with my aluminum griddle or an aluminum pot. Did you thaw in the refrigerator?

On December 08, 2005 at 02:53 AM, itallushrt (guest) said...
On a side note...

As a bachelor that is both thrifty and enjoys the better things in life, yes it's possible, I have developed many ways to buy in bulk and eat well. One of which involves purchasing larger packages of skinless boneless chicken breast, and performing a combination seasoning / marinade while frozen. I too was at first a skeptic, but have found this to be an excellent way to not only preserve food but add delicious flavor as well. What I do is "clean up" the breast by cutting all remaning traces of fat and excess skin left by the packing plant. Then I puncture the breast lightly a few times with a common fork and season well with common spices and/or s&p. I then use one individual freezer safe ziplock bag, good quality bags work best I've found, per breast with a liberal amount of a good marindate. I usually create roughly 5 or 6 of these of various flavors and freeze them all. Waaalaaa, one grill mate for a party of one. Simply take a single bag out of the freezer on the way to work in the morning and place in the kitchen sink. When you get home you are ready to go for dinner. I'm not sure what the freezing action does, if anything, but they seem to be much juicer and hold the marinade much better when frozen together.


On December 08, 2005 at 02:53 AM, an anonymous reader said...
How about a cattle rancher and computer scientist? :)

You can store beef for well over a year with very little quality degradation, if you follow the steps in the post. Additionally, I'd reinforce some of the points by saying:

1) Buy yourself a deep freeze unit. Your refrigerator's freezer unit is not intended for storing food for long periods of time (think defrosting).
2) The tinfoil/ziploc method may work (I've never tried it). Personally, I use either butcher paper (available in big rolls, on the cheap) or a vacuum unit (FoodSavers are good and cheap at Costco and Amazon).

Also, do yourself a favor and save money by buying large cuts of meat, cutting them into steaks, and freezing them. You'd be surprised at how much cheaper it is to go buy a large cut at Costco or a butcher than it is to get lots of individual steaks at your grocer. You may also be able to save money by buying beef by the box (ask for boxed beef at your butcher shop [or Costco]).

-Andrew Wooster

On December 08, 2005 at 02:54 AM, piercival (guest) said...
I'm curious as to how effective it is to store fish (perhaps other meats also) for long duration in solid blocks of ice.

I had friends years ago in Montana who stored freshly caught trout in milk cartons filled with water. They swore by it and I did eat some that was over a year old that tasted quite excellent. It was a large commercial freezer that did provide low temp. Also the thaw time was not exactly quick, but I'm picky about my fish and this did seem to work well.


On December 08, 2005 at 02:54 AM, an anonymous reader said...
re: thawing

This isn't specific to alumnium, it's a conductivity thing. You'll do even better with a cast iron pan immersed in another cast-iron pan. It's a matter of a) good thermal contact and b) low specific heat on the part of the thawing device. This is why air is such a terrible thawer: it conducts heat poorly and holds onto it fairly well.

On December 08, 2005 at 02:54 AM, an anonymous reader said...
The phone rang at the Butterball (turkey) customer support line. The person calling in asked, "How long will a turkey stay good frozen?" The help desk worker inquired how long that the person had had the turkey and was informed seventeen years. Well that is a long time and they had to ask some experts. Eventually the help desk worker said that they were finally able to conclude that if the turkey had been frozen at such and such a temperature the whole time it would be safe to eat but the flavor would probablly be off. The caller replied, "Thanky you so much, you have really helped me make my decision. We will donate this one to the church."

On December 08, 2005 at 02:55 AM, Bill (guest) said...
I thaw meat quickly on the metal surface of my kitchen stove.

On December 08, 2005 at 02:55 AM, an anonymous reader said...
itall said:

"Simply take a single bag out of the freezer on the way to work in the morning and place in the kitchen sink. When you get home you are ready to go for dinner."

Funny but I've been told this is a spectacularly good way of getting very sick. Your mileage may vary.

On December 08, 2005 at 02:55 AM, charles (guest) said...
"Funny but I've been told this is a spectacularly good way of getting very sick. Your mileage may vary."
I don't think he was suggesting that you just eat the raw thawed bird. I think it was implied that you cook it when you get back.

On December 08, 2005 at 02:56 AM, an anonymous reader said...
"Funny but I've been told this is a spectacularly good way of getting very sick. Your mileage may vary."
"I don't think he was suggesting that you just eat the raw thawed bird. I think it was implied that you cook it when you get back."

Suppose it is thawed by 13:00, and you get home at 17:00. 4 hours of festering - mmmm.....

On December 08, 2005 at 02:56 AM, Michael Chu said...
re: thawed in a sink

Since the chicken has probably finished thawing long before it's cooked, it better be cooked extremely thoroughly to ensure that all the potential samonella colonies have been completely destroyed. I wouldn't recommend one this thawing method - bring it down to fridge a day or two earlier.

On December 08, 2005 at 02:56 AM, an anonymous reader said...
I love the articles (and the charts are truly genius), but here's a small nit for the non-Francophones:

It is spelled "voila" (not "wala", not "waalaa"). It _is_ pronounced "vwaalaa", so everybody who has never seen it in print is excused for not knowing where to look for it in the dictionary (or la dictionare, for thaat matter). But now you've seen it, so no more excuses :-)

-A cooking & language geek.

On December 08, 2005 at 02:57 AM, Trillian (guest) said...
Re the benefits of freezing. There are 3 components to food spoilage, (1)decomposition by micobials, (2) decomposition by chemistry (eg saponification), (3)decomposition by physical deterioration.

Freezing only prevents food degredation from spoilage due to microbial activity. Fats & oils will still become tainted with rancidity (#2) at -18C/0F ... eventually; and as a frozen strawberry (#3) will tell you there are some irreversible side effects to freezing.

On December 08, 2005 at 02:57 AM, an anonymous reader said...
I conduct research on rabbit pancreas we extract ribosomes (large molecules) from them. I found that if I store the pancreas (meat) at -20 deg Celius, I get freezer burn. But if I store the meat at -80 deg Celius, there is not freezer burn!

So for you geeks out there with available liquid Nitrogen this is a great way to keep meats for a LONG time.

On December 08, 2005 at 02:58 AM, an anonymous reader said...
The -20degC vs -80degC storage is valid, but here are a couple points:

1) The meat will freeze faster (probably almost instantly) when you dunk it in LN2 than in a (presumably an air chamber) -20C unit. Rapid freezing will result in a much more even freeze.

2) Presumably you put the stuff in a bag before freezing it either way. Dunking it in LN2 is going to force most of the air to one side of the bag and thus expose less surface area of the meat to the air, thus less area for the ice to sublimate.

3) The vapor pressure of water at -80degC is a LOT less than at -20degC or -5degC (approximately the temp of most consumer freezers) thus there will be less sublimation going on at the lower temperatures by default. This is the most beneficial thing about the low temp storage.

4) Rapidly freezing tissue will rupture the cells. Slow freezing does much less damage. I'm fairly sure that you don't just dunk it in LN2 to freeze it though -- usually putting things in low temp storage is a staged process -- ice bath or fridge, freezer, and then directly to cold storage or staged into to cold storage (depending on what chemicals other than water are in what you are storing). Anyway, I wouldn't advise dunking an expensive cut of meat into liquid nitrogen to preserve it. At least leave it in the freezer overnight first.

On December 08, 2005 at 02:58 AM, eadmund (guest) said...
Re. Thawing in the Sink

I wouldn't thaw it in the sink, as sinks are full of nasty organisms, but thawing on the counter all day should be fine. A few hours sitting on the sideboard won't ruin the meat--remember that many meats are hung for a few days anyway. Besides, there just isn't enough time for toxins to accumulate, and cooking will kill off any micro-organisms.

As a last defense, one's immune system is pretty trustworthy:-)

On December 08, 2005 at 02:58 AM, an anonymous reader said...
Don't get all stressed out over thawed meat sitting at room temperature for a few hours. As George Carlin points out, your immune system needs germs to practice on. No antigens, no antibodies.

On December 08, 2005 at 02:58 AM, an anonymous reader said...
also the guy says to leave the meat in the ziplock bag when it thaws. i'm guessing if you cough on the meat or somehow horribly contaminate it before freezing, it's going to get festy pretty quick when it thaws, but if there's few contaminants to begin with it should be fine in the bag for a few hours. but where i live it's cold.

On December 08, 2005 at 02:59 AM, an anonymous reader said...
This is in response to the question about freezing fish. One thing to bear in mind when you freeze seafood is it has a much higher water content than most meats. Because of this there are really only two ways to effectively freeze fish and maintain most of its flavor and texture. Keep in mind that frozen fish will never be a match for fresh. To me it's like the difference between fresh tuna and its distant canned cousin. Personally I do not eat any frozen seafood unless I have no other option, but that is my own bit of snobbery.

The first freezing method is to do what your friend did, by placing the fish in direct contact with liquid and freezing the fish in a block of ice. This gentle method of freezing gives the best-tasting product and it is the only freezing method I recommend anyone use at home. You may have some limited success with plastic bags, foil or plastic wrap, but this method is pretty much guaranteed. The key is to make sure as much of the flesh as possible is surrounded by liquid.

The second method is called IQF, or Individually Quick Frozen, and is a commercial process that is often employed while fishing boats are at sea. I'm not sure of the particulars of the process, but the results speak for themselves. About 90% of the shrimp sold in the US is IQF, and it is also used for orange roughy, swordfish, halibut, sea bass, and a number of other species.

Hope that helps,

-- Charles (fishmonger turned software engineer)

On December 08, 2005 at 02:59 AM, itallushrt (guest) said...
Re. Thawing in the Sink

I wouldn't thaw it in the sink, as sinks are full of nasty organisms, but thawing on the counter all day should be fine. A few hours sitting on the sideboard won't ruin the meat--remember that many meats are hung for a few days anyway. Besides, there just isn't enough time for toxins to accumulate, and cooking will kill off any micro-organisms.

As a last defense, one's immune system is pretty trustworthy:-)

NOTE to all...I don't remove the meat from the freezer bag. It remains in the bag until cooking time, and yes for the smartass .. COOK the meat once thawed.

On another side note to the fish question. I am a very avvid fiserman and use the same method mentioned earlier. I freeze my cleaned fish fillets in large bags of water. I have kept and ate catfish over a year old using this method and there is no degredation in taste, etc.

AND .. you are very correct sir...VOILA! Thanks for pointing that out. =)

On December 08, 2005 at 02:59 AM, Joe (guest) said...
Re: thawing with the griddle: I guess out of habit I put it on the stove top -- i didn't turn on the burners, of course.

I ended up putting the fish in the fridge for an hour or so after it finished thawing, since it was faster than I thought it would be.

On December 08, 2005 at 03:02 AM, an anonymous reader said...
First: holy mackerel! What a great way of encoding a recipe!

Regarding bacteria: sometimes the biggest problem isn't the bacteria themselves but the toxins they produce. The entry for STAPHYLOCOCCUS AUREUS at the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services says "Cooking won't destroy staph poison". Odd...I thought you just needed a high enough temperature. More grim details available at eMedicine.

While you're at the first URL, take at look at the other entries: symptoms can appear as long as 30 days after consumption. On a related note, consumption of moldy foods can be quite dangerous, causing permanent damage.

There should be an extension to the adage "what doesn't kill me makes me stronger":
What kills me, kills me. Or my guests: ("it was...the salmon
mousse!"). Oh, and sometimes what doesn't kill me just
cripples me for life.

I'll admit the modified form doesn't roll off the tongue quite as nicely, and doesn't lend itself to bravado. :-)

You can spend your whole life with bad habits and never encounter a problem. However, I keep remembering a line from Tom Clancy's "Without Remorse", about Kelly/Clark "observing all the safety rules that had been written in the blood of less careful men". It's up to everyone to decide where to draw their personal line of caution; mine has tended to be a bit too far towards the incautious end of the spectrum and I've been burned a few times.

On a lighter note, the main reason to get a chest-style "deep freezer" is because you can store food safely for longer periods. That's because it won't undergo the freeze-thaw cycles which frost-free, in-fridge freezers use (as often as every six hours) to avoid frost build-up. Technology geeks can see more detail at How Stuff Works and Appliance411.


On December 08, 2005 at 03:02 AM, an anonymous reader said...
Re leaving the chicken in the sink...
I do believe that the meat had been a) marinated and b) had spices added to it. Correct me if I am wrong but these additions do retard the growth of all of the nasty bugs everyone is freaking out about. Ever hear of cooked jerky? So properly seasoned before hand and marinated to boot before freezing sounds great to me. This is going to be a must try for me.

On December 08, 2005 at 03:02 AM, Michael (guest) said...
Man you guys sound like a bunch of old women. A marinated and seasoned piece of chicken properly stored in a freezer bag sitting thawed for a couple of hours. Now correct me if I am wrong but jerky has never seen any type of cooking device, so the spices keep the growth of bacteria to a minimum. Or kill them altogether and before somebody asks, no I have never seen chicken jerky, but the principle should still apply nicely. As for thawing my aluminum sink is killer. Thanks Michael for the awesome website being a single guy its really easy to start getting bored with your own cooking and need to freshen things up. And I do love to cook!

On December 08, 2005 at 03:03 AM, Mr. Ham Pie (guest) said...
Listen Gentlemen
Bacteria only exists on the outside of the meat.
So it can be washed off after you have finished defrosting.
For a good example of this, smell a piece of defrosted fish, then wash it, then smell again.
You will be amazed.

On December 08, 2005 at 03:03 AM, Michael Chu said...
re: bunch of old women
There are many similarities between the classic stereotype of an old woman and the minds of people predisposed to be engineers such as (1) we both believe what we believe, (2) we're both stubborn, and (3) we both have no problem saying what we believe. The difference is, even though an engineer might not immediately admit they are wrong, they will file away the discenting opinion in the backs of their mind as data and even possibly check it the next time they, let's say, encounter a turkey.

re: jerky
All the jerky I've known are dehydrated in an oven like contraption (an oven, a hot smoker, etc.). The dehydration serves as much to preserve the meat as the "spices". Most spices do little to extend the lifespan of a piece of meat, but salt and chile powders are effective (especially salt). In the case of the chicken on the counter for a couple hours to thaw, that's probably fine - but if it's a whole chicken or even large breasts, it's not just going to be two or three hours. The problem is that the exterior of the chicken thaws and rises above 40°F while the inside is frozen. While waiting the couple hours for the inside to thaw, the bacteria is rapidly multiplying. Now you've got a bag potentially full of salmonella juices seasoned with secret herbs and spices that's sure to get a little bit on something else in the kitchen that's not being fully cooked. Not too big of a problem for most young people and others who have a strong constitution - maybe a mild bout of diarrhea and you're done. But for others, it can become a serious problem and even life threatening. (Very concerning if you cooking for others; guests should not go home and develop a tummy ache or worse.)

re: Washing meats
I don't know what mr. ham pie meant when he said washing meats - I imagine he's only rinsing. That helps clear away much of the by products of microbes, but rarely does rinsing remove a substantial amount of surface organisms. Soap and water and scrubbing can knock down the bacteria count by a few orders of magnitude, but that's not an option for meats. (I do recommend soapy water and scrubbing fruits & vegetables when you can because slicing into a fruit (with knives or teeth) with surface contamination will bring the bad stuff into the flesh.) Because it's difficult to clean the outside of meat, I recommend at least searing the outside to kill anything clinging on if you plan on severing anything raw (sashimi, carpaccio). If you don't like the sear, trim it off after you sear it. Does everyone have to follow all these precautions? Probably not, but if you're really risk adverse, then follow the safety tips we've outlined. Do I follow all of them? Usually, but there are times when I do a little risk taking (but not when I have guests).

On December 08, 2005 at 03:04 AM, Adam (guest) said...
Now, the question I have for you all is this:

I have some t-bone steak with freezer burn (overnight - who would have thought?). Now, with freezer burn being as much about dehydration as, say for instance, jerky - would I be able to turn my steak into a jerky product that would be a) safe, and b) worth eating.....any ideas?

On December 08, 2005 at 03:04 AM, Michael Chu said...
re: overnight freezer burn

I'm really surprised that the meat was able to dehydrate that quickly in just one night. Often, a color change in the meat is mistaken for freezer burn, but the color change does not affect texture or taste. Make sure the meat is burned but feeling it's surface texture after it has been thawed (in the refrigerator). If it's dry and coarse, then it is indeed freezer burn. If it's feels like the reast of the steak, then cook yourself a steak!

For jerky - I've never made jerky from freezer burned meat, but it seems like it could be worth a try. If the meat's been properly handled, there should be no safety issues with working with a freezer burned steak. I'm not sure if the burned area will take on the flavors of the marinade effectively, but it sounds like it'll be worth a try.

On December 08, 2005 at 03:04 AM, Adam (guest) said...
Re: Overnight freezer burn

It has discolouration, large cracks, and appears dry in its still frozen state. To say it was overnight was a bit of a hyperbole - it was most of the day and one night with no covering whatsoever. But it did get me thinking about my freezer-burn jerky theory.

On December 08, 2005 at 03:04 AM, an anonymous reader said...
I'm looking for a thawing machine in the market but couldn't find one.

Thawing meat in the microwave is the worst method I know because some part of the meat might get cooked and the rest are still frozen.

On December 08, 2005 at 03:05 AM, an anonymous reader said...
My husband is an electrical engineer and he doesn't cook at all. Unfortunately, it is my fault since I spoil him by taking care of all the meals.

I am going to send him your site and see if he can learn a thing or two and maybe suprise me with a meal.

On December 08, 2005 at 03:05 AM, an anonymous reader said...
my question is why is it that you can not re freeze meat thats been half or fully thawed? and can it get you sick/what will result from this

On December 08, 2005 at 03:05 AM, Michael Chu said...
re: freezing thawed meats

Meats that have been thawed or partially thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen. Meats that have thawed in the sink, microwave, or some other method (not recommended) should not be refrozen. Here's why:
When you thaw meat in the refrigerator, no part of the meat even reaches a temperature above 40°F, the low point of the temperature range where bacteria and microbial reproduction occurs at an appreciable level. This means, freshly thawed meat will have similar levels of microorganisms as the frozen meat - refreezing will result in roughly the same concentration of microbes.

When meat is thawed in another manner, parts of the meat will have reached a temperature above 40°F while other parts are still thawing. By the time the interior has fully thawed, the warmer portions have been conducive to microbial reproduction for quite some time. To refreeze the meat at this point will result in a larger culture of bacteria and microbes being frozen with the meat. When it is thawed again, the bacterial colonies have had a jump start and may reach concentrations high enough to cause us problems if not completely killed. Unfortunately, that usually requires us to hold the meat at a high temperature rendering it unpalatable (imagine cooking a steak to 170°F and holding it there for ten to fifteen minutes - that's going to be one tough piece of meat) to avoid food poisoning. If not careful, unwelcome visits to the bathroom may occur or even in some cases the body will forcibly reject the food. In the elderly or those with weak immune systems, extreme illness or even death may occur from the food poisoning.

On December 08, 2005 at 03:05 AM, an anonymous reader said...
Maybe not as important as the potential health issues when re-freezing thawed foods, there is also a food quality issue.

Ice crystals form when food freezes (when anything freezes for that matter). These crystals rupture cells. Repeating the freezing cycle damages more cells, which causes loss of moisture and texture.

Also, much earlier in this thread, someone stated that rapid freezing causes more cell damage than slow freezing. IIRC, Alton Brown demonstrated the opposite in the "Strawwberry Skies" episode of "Good Eats" - the strawberries he froze using dry ice oozed less juice than those frozen conventionally. His explanation was that rapid freezing results in the formation of smaller ice crystals than a slow freeze.

Great website, BTW. I just found this site yesterday and I've already read almost everything here.

On December 08, 2005 at 03:06 AM, grainwreck_repost (guest) said...
I just returned from the hospital where I was treated for anaphyletic shock and poisoning (simultaneously!) due to scombroid poisoning of fresh salmon.

Neither freezing nor cooking kills this bacterial toxin. One can't see, smell or taste it. I think it is found mostly in warm water fish but more and more it is found in cold water fish like salmon. I think that this might be due to the environmentally friendly new "long-line" fishing (where fishing lines are miles long and it takes days to reel in the fish.) With ocean temperatures up a few degrees, there may be more of an opportunity for bad pathogens to develop?

Scombroid toxin can also form in cheese (especially swiss) and other foods. There's a quickie summary from New Zealand of scombroid poisoning at

Even though it took a 911 call to save my life, I'm not going to stop eating fresh salmon. It's quite rare. I just thought I'd mention it here so people might be reminded to double check the source of their fresh fish.

Wonderful site, by the way. I just stumbled on y'all!

On December 08, 2005 at 03:07 AM, Lia (guest) said...
I have come up with a good solution to the thawing/germs issue. I buy my chicken breast by the family pack, although it is only my husband and me. I cook all of it the first day; than I cut up some, shred some, some of it stays whole. THEN I freeze it. IT is so easy to pull out a bag of precooked chicken breast, throw it in the fridge then when we come home -- it's ready to go!

On December 19, 2005 at 09:40 AM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: freezing thawed turkey
had a frozen 10-12lb turkey given to me at the office and i did not know about it at that time. it was left on the coffee room table by accident over night in a shopping bag.

came into work next morning and turkey was somewhat soft with water on the table. i was told to cook it right away, others said ok to freeze it. i really did not want to cook it, so i re-froze it.
Question: when i thaw this and cook it sometime during xmas, will 4-5 hrs in oven or rottiserie make it ok for me to serve without guests fighting for the bathroom?
thanks for any info

On December 19, 2005 at 07:03 PM, Michael Chu said...
re: partially thawed on counter, then refrozen turkey

I think it is okay to assume that cooking the turkey in an oven for 4-5 hours is going to kill all the bad bacteria that we're so concerned about. Unfortunately, it may not be enough to destroy any toxins that a large culture of bacteria may have been producing prior to refreezing. Many toxins won't break down until your turkey has reached a temperture that will make the fowl foul to taste. Whether or not the bacteria has enough time to grow a sizable culture and produce a reasonable quantity of toxins, is a risk that you'll have to decide for yourself if you want to take.

On December 28, 2005 at 05:22 AM, Johannes (guest) said...
Subject: health concerns
Hi everyone!

To my surprise, many of you are concerned about freezing and thawing, but no one comments on the aluminum foil used to cover the meat in Michaelīs "recipe". I thought it is common knowledge that even traces of salt and water on aluminum produce toxins without any help of bacteria. Nitrates are known to support the growth of cancer, and aluminum is found in the brains of patients suffering from Alzheimerīs disease (whether that is caused by using dishes with that metal or just a coincidence has not been thoroughly looked at, as far as I know).

I suggest using reusable containers (I know a famous retailer ...). The bacteria can be killed using hot water or your dishwasher, possible stains can be removed with plant oil beforehand. And I found out that your roast does not stay cubic after thawing ...

With best regards from a fish- and meat-loving mechanical engineer,

On January 02, 2006 at 12:03 PM, Joe (guest) said...
Subject: Another defrosting method.
Last night ~2 am I put some still sealed tuna steak in a metal mixing bowl of water and placed that in the fridge.

I normally just do it in the fridge for like 2 days. It is done right now ~10 am.

On January 05, 2006 at 07:13 PM, former restaurant manager (guest) said...
Subject: bacteria growth in food
There are several factors that contribute in the growth of the bateria. Take note, bacteria is not the sole contributor to food poisoning but the toxins they produce, y'know in comes one way out goes the other.
These are what contrubute to bacteria growth. Take away one of these factors and you don't have to run to the john two hours later.

1. Temperature - these creatures multiply roughly every 30 minutes between 41 and 140 degree fahrenheit. And millions of them reside in pinhead sized playground. So if you're defrosting food in the sink for hours at a time, you will kill the bacteria after cooking in the correct temperature but the toxins remain.

2.Oxigen - Now, that is diffcult to control. It's everywhere. So we resort to controlling other factors.

3.Acidity - The guy who marinade his meat, given that he used ingredients such as vinegar or other acidic agents will still be able to come home at night and eat his meat after hours of brewing and not be sick.

4.Moisture - That is why beef jerky is safe.

I think I got all of them. Just be sensible about defrosting you meats. Slow defrost bringing it down to the refrigerator for a day or two is the best method. Another tip: Once you start cooking you cannot stop. So defrosting in the microwave is technically cooking so no refreezing. If you're in a bit of a hurry, place the meat in a container where it could "submerge" and have running cold water.

I beleive that eating safe food is most important. You can eat great tasting food AND avoid food poisoning. I beleive you guys should have a series of article about proper food hadling from purchasing, storage, prep, cooking, storage after cooking and reheating[/code]

On April 17, 2006 at 03:26 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: Chicken
My wife made some chicken lastnight around 12am, I was in charge of putting it away after it had cooled down. But with my lazy eyes I became tired...and in the morning to her surprise I had left the chicken out all night! at least for 7 hours. Does anyone know if bacteria has formed over night. WOULD IT BE SFE EATING?

On May 18, 2006 at 07:45 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Even cooked meat will have bacteria that will grow if given the proper environment. While cooking kills a significant portion of the bacteria, if you were to cook the meat until it was steril, you would not want to eat the meat. So eating cooked meat that has been left out is not the best idea, but it is up to you to risk it (especially if you reheat it sufficently).

On June 20, 2006 at 06:50 AM, an anonymous reader said...
Off of the subject of bacterial contamination (you should try to portion and freeze meat as soon as possible, even overnight in the refrigerator seems to change the texture and flavor of the meat) I have had great luck with a slightly different packaging method. I first wrap the individual serving (usually from a family pack or bulk purchased steak) in plastic wrap. This allows you to see if there is air trapped next to the surface, allowing you to force it out. Then it is tightly wrapped in foil, and labled with contents and date. Finally, multiple pieces are placed in freezer bags, with as much air squeezed out as possible. Keep the pieces in a single layer and lay out on a flat surface in the freezer, to speed up the freezing process. The slower the freezing, the larger the crystals, and the mushier the meat gets. I have never had a piece get freezer burn using this method, even after a year, the meat is still good and tasty (a bit different than fresh, the enzymes are still working on it, albeit at a much slower pace.)

Instead of allowing to thaw in a sink during the day, or let to thaw in the refrigerator, Alton Brown's quick thaw method works within an hour or two. Submerge the ziplock bag in water, weigh it down with something (I have a piece of towing chain from the hardware store that works wonderfully) and place in the sink. Turn the faucet on "dribble." It's wasteful of water, but thaws things quickly, and keeps things fairly cool, avoiding nasty bacterial growths that can really ruin your BBQ.

On July 08, 2006 at 06:19 PM, Muffin1313 (guest) said...
Subject: Freezing and thawing meats
Jerky is safe to store at room temperature because there is so little water in it that bacteria cannot grow in that medium.

As one poster said, thawing meat on the counter is only asking for trouble. It's true that most people won't be affected by food poisoning, but if you are serving anyone who is very young, elderly, or has a compromised immune system and they get sick, they may die. There's no point in taking such risks.

And spices do not protect enough against bacteria. It's true that some do protect; salt protects because it, again, takes away the available water that bacteria need to grow.

If you get large enough numbers of bacteria growing, they can and do release toxins that will not be destroyed by heat, no matter how long you cook it.

On January 03, 2007 at 12:03 PM, Rick2U said...
Subject: Freezing Chicken Breasts
I like freezing chicken breasts in Kraft Zesty Italian Dressing in a freezer bag. It seems to work similar to brining as the meat is very moist and flavourful after cooking.

On April 14, 2007 at 12:48 AM, JOAT (guest) said...
Subject: Thawing in a Teflon pan
Hi all. I got hooked on this site from the chef knife comparison. Great job!! Anyways.....

I got this idea from an infomercial that touted a quick way of thawing frozen steaks "in minutes". It involved buying what looked like a large, square metal skillet and placing the meat on the thing. The solid pieces of frozen meat would miraculously thaw and turn supple (i.e. room temp) in just minutes. You didn't even have to plug this into an electrical socket. Somewhere in the internet I found out that it was just basically a large metal teflon coated pan. So I wanted to test this.

I took a solid, frozen steak and placed it on a large teflon skillet on my range with no heat. I was amazed to find that the meat actually thawed very quickly to refrigderator tempurature in just 15 minutes or so. It has been a while since I took physics but I think it has to do with the skillet acting like a heat (or in this case, cold) sink and dissapating the cold in a larger surface area, and drawing out the cold (or infusing the warmth) more efficiently.

I have used this techique ever since without failure except when the frozen meat is shaped in a way where only a mimimal amount of it is in physical contact with the skillet thus decreasing the amount of potential temperature exchange.

I honestly think this is the best way to defrost frozen meat. I HATE using the microwave. It ends up being a balancing act of frozen, cooked, and rubberized meat.


On November 22, 2007 at 03:35 PM, guest (guest) said...
Subject: upright freezers can be good too ;>
"On a lighter note, the main reason to get a chest-style "deep freezer" is because you can store food safely for longer periods. That's because it won't undergo the freeze-thaw cycles which frost-free, in-fridge freezers use (as often as every six hours) to avoid frost build-up. Technology geeks can see more detail at How Stuff Works and Appliance411. "

Confusing self defrosting and the style of freezer is just a mistake. Sears and various other vendors have upright freezers which are not frost free. 20ft^3 or so.I find it's a lot easier to find what I want quickly in an upright.

A useful adjunct is a medical grade temp sensor with alarm. <> for example. More flexible than the built in temp alarm of many modern units.s. In retrospect, I should have sprung for the gycol probe to prevent false positives from short openings.

On January 15, 2008 at 08:57 PM, tahrey (guest) said...
Subject: Freezing/defrosting/safety of chicken, turkey etc
:shock: I'm slight concerned over the apparent.... ignorance, is that the right word? (seems a little strong) displayed here re: the differing risks that can be faced in the handling of different meats.

Of course appropriate safety and hygiene has to be practiced with all meats (and foods), but some are more dangerous than others, both because of certain biological factors, and because of how they are handled and processed before they get to you.

For whatever reason, the more commonly 'hung' meats, such as beef and lamb, are typically less sensitive and dangerous when it comes to what you do with them. You can make jerky just by drying, salting and seasoning, safely eat a medium-rare steak, etc.
But have you ever had a 'rare' chicken breast, or turkey jerkey? (or pork, for that matter...) --- No. These are somewhat more pathogen-ridden/sensitive meats, and require more careful handling and more thorough cooking to destroy the more numerous and/or potentially dangerous microbes that reside within.

Because of this, and having learnt my lesson the painful way in the past when pushing things a little beyond their safe consumation date, I wouldn't touch much of that 'softening' turkey unless it had been immediately well-cooked, nor the chicken breasts left in the sink, regardless of marinading or spicing, unless the sink was guaranteeably out of direct sunlight (mine isn't; it faces west-southwest) and the defrosting time was fairly well-established to take about a working day. Preferably I would take it from the freezer first thing and put it in the fridge, where it would be mostly defrosted by the end of the day, with maybe a half hour max in a room temperature environment during any preparation followed by a thorough cooking which would heat all parts of it through to a safe temperature ---- with the gastronomic 'quality' of the output (subject to overcooking, overly rapid 2nd stage defrosting, freezer burn or what have you) being a distant second to the more pressing concern of it not Killing Me Dead after eating.

Seriously. You don't mess with poultry. Beef & lamb keep quite well, if it's either whole or a carefully butchered slice (ground, as in mince or hamburger, is not so good - as mentioned, in these cases the bacteria is only on the 'outside' of the cut and so is a small amount easily destroyed by cooking, particularly of a 'searing' type).... non-game birds, less so. I don't know the reason why. Only that it is so, and i've paid the gastrointestinal price at least once before for going against my knowledge and instincts because I was too stingy and lazy to throw a borderline piece away and make/go buy something else for lunch.

Another thing that surprises me, as a european, is the common advice to get a 'real' freezer.... are these things not widespread in the USA (where i'm assuming, from internets experience, most posters are from), then? I don't think I know anyone without either two seperate appliances, or an integrated one which incorporates two separate, dedicated & sealed boxes (one 4'C/40'F, the other -18'C/0'F), rather than the cheaper, usually workplace-only "fridge with an internal icebox" device...


PS your captcha is EVIL :) please make it a little more obvious that it doesn't work the usual way, as I skipped STRAIGHT over what I assumed was the usual boilerplate text and couldn't figure out what was wrong til about the third try when I started reading things in more detail. A bit of larger font size or red colouration would go a long way...

On August 30, 2010 at 03:49 PM, Chefjoe (guest) said...
Subject: Cooking it
Since the chicken has probably finished thawing long before it's cooked, it better be cooked extremely thoroughly to ensure that all the potential samonella colonies have been completely destroyed. I wouldn't recommend one this thawing method - bring it down to fridge a day or two earlier.

You can kill the bacteria, but you do NOT kill the toxins. You can cook it for 3 days and the toxins will still get you.

On August 30, 2010 at 04:39 PM, Dilbert said...
>>You can kill the bacteria, but you do NOT kill the toxins. You can cook it for 3 days and the toxins will still get you.

need a bit more specifics on these "toxins" - botulism is the usual culprit with regard to toxins - it's not the botulism spores that are a problem - but rather the toxins they produce when they get the right conditions to multiply.

and, the botulism toxin is destroyed by less than boiling temps - so I'm baffled by the reference.

since you're responding to a post from Jan of 2008, not sure of the rest.

On November 07, 2010 at 03:14 PM, Chef James (guest) said...
Subject: Freezing Meats
:lol: I am a chef and I agree with Mr. Chu, although we are mandated safe food practises in all levels of food, by the government. I freeze plenty of foodsl, not just meat, and my family and I just absolutely enjoy everymeal everytime when it is defrosted from the deep freeze. If you have doubts simply use your own time line, practise makes perfect.

On January 04, 2011 at 09:13 PM, Indiancooking (guest) said...
Subject: Turkey kababs
It is safe to freeze uncooked minced turkey once I've added ingredients such as onions, spice, cilantro and mint? Or is it better to fully cook the kabobs and then freeze them?

On June 09, 2011 at 03:04 PM, tomtigue - CSE, retired (guest) said...
Subject: Freezing turkey & stuffing
I'll take our turkey out of the deep freeze about 3-4 days before roasting...keep it in the reefer.... on day of the big dinner I'll make the stuffing & bake it in a separate casserole with enough turkey tails to cover the stuffing (dressing) ....turkey fat drips down and it tastes the same as in- the- bird stuffing.

On June 23, 2011 at 07:44 PM, Colin Q. Bang (guest) said...
Subject: question about article's method for preventing freezer burn
Do I understand correctly that freezer burn will gradually (~ months) occur in the presence of even only a small amount of air, such as will be trapped inside a plastic freezer bag?
If not, the article's time-consuming step of sealing(NOTE 1) in aluminum foil before storing in a freezer bag is superfluous, but then the statement "...vacuum sealing, wrapping in heavy-duty aluminum foil, or using a plastic freezer bag." would make sense.

OTOH if so, will the limited amount of air have a practical effect on the rate of "burn" or maximum amount of burn (i.e. sublimation ceasing when the trapped air reaches 100% relative humidity)?

Using foil to create an air-tight seal seems also error prone or of questionable effectiveness, in my experience from using foil even over things that are smoother, sharper, & harder than raw meat and thus presumably easier to seal)

On March 20, 2013 at 08:00 PM, Cheff Wannabee said...
Subject: Foil
In regards to wrapping meat in foil, are there any acidic or other components that can cause a reaction to the foil like tomato based products can? I know it is not recommended to cook tomato based foods in an aluminum vessels because some of the aluminum goes into the food and thus into our bodies. Just looking to cover all bases. Like the Science Channel says, I question everything! Thanks in advance.

On March 20, 2013 at 09:35 PM, Dilbert said...
first, as you wish to question everything, you should research the role of aluminum regards human health.

the "rumor" got started in the 50's by a UK doctor. since then the danger of aluminum, especially with regard to the Alzheimer / dementia issue, has been disproved by many many authoritative health agencies. now, understand, according to the aluminum freakoos, all these "entities" are in a great conspiracy . . .

next, "freezer burn" is a not a burn but - as you point out - "dessication" of meat tissue. water in the frozen meat sublimes into the air of the freezer.

one solution: a moisture barrier - that being something that water vapor aka moisture cannot penetrate.

there are two "perfect moisture" barriers in common usage:
aluminum foil is a metal - it is a perfect moisture barrier. plastics are not.

I only 'temporarily' freeze meats - wrapped in heavy duty foil - for the 2 - 4 month time frame, never an issue.

On November 12, 2014 at 05:17 PM, Lola (guest) said...
Subject: Freeze seared meat?
Hi. I'm hoping you can help me. Is it safe to sear a roast, pork or beef, and freeze it? If it's safe, does the meat need to cool completely before I stick it in the freezer? We love to go camping and my husband wants to go in the colder months. I seriously doubt he's going to enjoy grilling when it's nasty out, so I'm thinking I'll be packing the crockpot. Thanks.

On November 12, 2014 at 05:32 PM, Dilbert said...
safe - yes.

cool completely - cool yes, the 'completely' bit is not so important

...camping crockpot - my experiences with "camping" do not include 110v convenience outlets, so you'll have to invent.

On November 12, 2014 at 07:19 PM, Jim Cooley said...
There's an old technique for that but I forget its name. Basically, you fill a box with straw, add hot rocks and your dutch oven. Cover with more straw. Cover the whole box and let sit for 6-8 hours. Residual heat does the rest.

On November 13, 2014 at 07:07 PM, Lola (guest) said...
Subject: Thanks
Thank you. I was worried about food poisoning. We camp at Georgia state parks. The sites have electricity and water hookups. And toilets and shower houses. Unless you like to rough it. They have those sites too. Someday I'll try the Dutch oven and coals, but I'll enjoy the crockpot first. I like to have everything frozen before we go so I don't have to worry about food spoiling. Thanks again

On April 14, 2016 at 12:23 PM, nightresp (guest) said...
Subject: How long you can keep frozen meat
I have eaten a turkey that was stored in my deep freezer at a temperature appx. much be low 0° with no ill effects and had no freezer burn. Remember that article years ago when some people are meat from a frozen mammoth. The answer I believe in keeping meat longer than usual, is to turn your deep freezer as far done as it can go to get below 0° and refrain from opening rarely unless you are planning a meal and anticipate any other foods in the freezer that you will be eating within 3 months after you have placed it in your refrigerator's freezer. When in doubt though throw item out.

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