Medical Misconception: Food Preparation

Each month we set the facts straight regarding a popular health and wellness myth.

This month’s myth: Thawing food on the counter is safe.

There’s at least one generation of us who remember the primary meal preparer in our family grabbing a package of chicken or ground beef from the freezer and leaving it out on the counter to thaw for that night’s meal.

While we may have survived, the truth is that thawing food on the counter is not safe, due to the amount of bacteria that can grow on the meat as it sits out at room temperature. This goes for marinating foods on the counter as well, according to, a website of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Instead, the refrigerator is the safest way to thaw meat, poultry and seafood. Typically, it takes about a day for the food to fully thaw, according to the website. Other thawing options include using the microwave or submerging the food in a bowl of cold water (changing the water every 30 minutes), according to the website.

Improperly thawed food is one of the causes of food poisoning, according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms can include nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, fever and abdominal pain and/or cramps. For some, the symptoms may only last for a few hours or days; for others, hospitalization is required. Food poisoning is especially dangerous for pregnant women, those with compromised immune systems and older adults, according to the Mayo Clinic. 

Food safety is an important topic any time of year, but as the countdown to Thanksgiving begins, it is essential to incorporate safe food practices as we prepare these special meals. The thawing practices outlined above go for frozen turkeys, too, though the time for them to thaw is longer than a day; consult this chart for more information.

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