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One Major Side Effect of Defrosting Meat on the Counter, Says Science

Need to defrost your meat for dinner? You'll need to know this.
FACT CHECKED BY Kiersten Hickman

If you've got some frozen meat that you want to cook up and also have a couple of hours to kill before you want to start the cooking process, it only makes sense to defrost it by letting it thaw on the counter. That way you're not having to worry about the side effects of defrosting meat in the microwave or other questionable spots in the kitchen. Instead, it can thaw out naturally by sitting at room temperature for a while.

But there can be serious problems if you are defrosting meat out on the counter for too long at an unsafe temperature because when frozen food is left out for more than two hours it can lead to a rapid increase in bacteria growth.

Frozen food is also dangerous when its temperature reaches more than 40 degrees, as that is also when bacteria can rapidly multiply in the food. (Related: 12 Food Safety Rules You're Definitely Breaking)

While meat is frozen, it will remain safe and the bacteria within it will stay dormant, but as meat begins to thaw the bacteria will start to become active, according to the University of Illinois. Experts say to "never" defrost meat on the counter, as it can become dangerous after two hours, or one hour in the warmer summer months because of the risk of rapidly growing bacteria.

It's not only meat that can have rapid bacteria growth when defrosting on the counter, it's also dangerous to leave out egg products.

If you're looking to thaw meat on a boiling summer day, or on any day when your kitchen is warmer than 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it might be best to look for another option.

A safer way to defrost your meat

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends leaving food in the refrigerator to defrost, where it will remain under a constant temperature that's either at or under 40 degrees, adding that it's also dangerous to defrost meat in hot water. They said that the three safest ways to defrost food are "in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave."

The most regularly recommended way to defrost meat is in the refrigerator, although it may take longer than leaving it to thaw on the counter. So clear out some of the leftovers that have been sitting in there for too long and make room to make your next meal safely, and with far fewer bacteria than leaving the meat to defrost on the counter.

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Erin Yarnall
Erin Yarnall is a freelance reporter from the Chicago area. Read more about Erin
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