Thawing, cooking, cooling and reheating food

Safe thawing

Thaw meat and other foods in the bottom of the fridge whenever possible.

If you need to thaw food immediately, this is best done in the microwave or, as a last resort, under cool running water (with the food wrapped or packaged).

It is advised that you do not leave frozen food to thaw on a bench at room temperature. This will allow the outside of the food to warm above 5ºC which will allow food poisoning bacteria to grow.

Make sure food is defrosted all the way through before cooking to ensure it reaches hot enough temperatures through to the centre.

Safe cooking

Cooking meat

Whole pieces or portions of meat (for example steak, cutlets and roasts) may have harmful bacteria present on the outside surfaces while the inside remains safe. These meats can be seared on the outside so that the surface temperature reaches about 75ºC. The meat can be rare on the inside and still be safely eaten.

Processed meats

Meats that have been further processed can pose additional food safety risks as bacteria present on the surface can be mixed through the meat product. Examples may include:

  • mince
  • diced or cubed meats
  • sausages
  • hamburgers
  • patties
  • rolled and seasoned roasts
  • pocket filled meat portions, for example stuffed meats
  • kebabs
  • marinated meats

These products need to be thoroughly cooked so that the meat is not pink on the inside and the juices run clear when skewered, cut or pressed.

Cooking so that the internal temperature reaches 75ºC is a good guide however the internal temperature can be lower if kept at that temperature for a longer time, for example 68ºC for 10 minutes.

If you have access to a probe thermometer, you can use it to check the internal temperature of cooked foods.

Cooking chicken and other poultry

In addition to cooking meat, extra care is needed when cooking chicken and other poultry, particularly whole roasts. This is because there is a higher likelihood that chicken will be contaminated with certain food poisoning bacteria, particularly in the centre of the carcass.

When cooking poultry, especially roasts, make sure the meat is cooked thoroughly all the way through. The best way to check this is to use a probe thermometer by sticking it into the thickest part of the bird. It should be at least 75ºC. Alternatively, it can be checked by pulling away the thigh and checking that there is no pink meat and the juices run clear.

If there is stuffing in the roast, it too needs to reach 75ºC right through.

Microwaving food

Microwaves are a quick and convenient way to cook foods, but they tend to heat foods unevenly and can leave cold spots. When microwaving foods, always rotate and stir the food during cooking for more even heating. Also, wait until the required standing time is over before you check that cooking is complete, because foods continue to cook even when the microwave is turned off.

Safe cooling

If food is not to be eaten immediately after cooking, it can be allowed to cool to ambient temperature within two hours before it is put into the fridge. If you are not going to be around, it should be placed straight in the refrigerator to cool to below 5°C. You may be reluctant to do this but modern refrigerators can cope with the load. Ensure the food is covered.

Divide large amounts into smaller portions in shallow dishes to increase the rate of cooling.

Safe reheating

When reheating foods, heat to steaming hot. This will kill any bacteria which may have grown on the food in the fridge.