It turns out we've been defrosting chicken all wrong: 'Extremely unsafe'

An expert shares the surprising way to do it right - and safely.

Defrosting chicken in container
Can you defrost chicken on the kitchen bench at room temperature? An expert weighs in on how it should be done. Photo: Facebook

If you’ve ever defrosted chicken for dinner, you’ll know it can be a bit of a lengthy process. But, despite everyone having their own method of getting it done, surprisingly, there are only a few ways to do it safely.

In a recent post on social media, one woman questioned whether her mum’s process of defrosting chicken was safe. The post was inundated with comments as people shared their thoughts on the best way to perform this extremely common task.

The poster told the group, “My mum leaves chicken overnight to thaw at room temperature. I already explained to her that it's not the correct way to thaw out meat and increases the chances of foodborne illness.”


She said her method also includes “washing the chicken” in her sink, which “contaminates it”.

Frozen chicken on plate
Hundreds of people said they saw no issue with defrosting chicken on the kitchen bench, despite the woman's food safety concerns. Photo: Getty Images

Explaining that there must be different, safer methods of defrosting chicken, her post sparked a heated debate with more than 2600 comments on how others do it and surprisingly, a lot used the same process as her mum.

“I have always done this, as my family did before me. I've tried defrosting chicken in the fridge, and it just doesn't do anything,” one person commented.

“We left it out, and when soft and defrosted, move it into the fridge. I'm 62, so I survived it for many years,” added another.

Several others said they had also used the same method for years without any issues.

“Always have done it, and also my mum. I’ve survived it unless it’s extremely hot, then of course you don’t,” another person said, with another confirming, “I've done this for 40-plus years.

Some people said they’d never defrost meat at room temperature out of fear of food poisoning. Credit: Getty Images
Some people said they’d never defrost meat at room temperature out of fear of food poisoning. Credit: Getty Images

While most agreed it was fine, there were some who said they’d never defrost meat at room temperature out of fear of food poisoning.

“It honestly depends on the temperature of the room overnight. If it's a warm climate, then there is definitely a good chance you will end up with food poisoning,” one person said.

“I live in Darwin and would never do this. As you said the fridge is the best way to defrost food. Especially chicken, which, as we all know, carries salmonella,” another added.

Despite overwhelming support for the defrosting method, Food Safety expert Edward McCartney from Food Safety Plus said that this method is extremely unsafe.

“It is not safe to leave chicken out overnight at room temperature to defrost. Room temperature falls within the "danger zone" (5°C to 60°C) where bacteria can multiply rapidly,” he told Yahoo Lifestyle.

“Leaving chicken out for extended periods can lead to the growth of harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella and Campylobacter, increasing the risk of foodborne illness.”

Chicken in microwave
According to food safety experts, defrosting chicken in the microwave is a good alternative to doing it at room temperature. Photo: Getty Images

So, what’s the likelihood of bacteria being produced on frozen chickens that defrost at room temperature? According to Mr McCartney, it can happen pretty easily and quickly.

“The risk of food poisoning becomes more likely when chicken is kept at temperatures between 5°C and 60°C for more than two hours. Bacteria can multiply rapidly at these temperatures,” he advises.

“Therefore, it’s crucial to defrost chicken using methods that keep it out of this danger zone, such as in the refrigerator or using a microwave with immediate cooking afterwards.”

According to The NSW Food Authority, there are three safe approaches to defrosting chicken or meat safely.

In the refrigerator: This is the safest method because it holds the correct temperature of below 5 degrees. Slow and safe thawing is the best method for all types of chicken.

“It takes longer (usually 24 hours for a full chicken), but it prevents the growth of harmful bacteria,” Mr McCartney explained of the method.

frozen meat in fridge
Defrosting chicken in the fridge overnight is the safest way to defrost meat without compromising food safety. Photo: Getty Images

In the Microwave: This method requires the chicken to be cooked immediately after defrosting and should be carried out using the defrost settings on the microwave.


“This method is the quickest, but it can start to cook parts of the chicken, leading to uneven thawing. It's best to cook the chicken immediately after defrosting in the microwave,” Mr McCartney advised.

Submerged in water: Cold water can be used to defrost meat in airtight packaging or a leak-proof bag. This process involves submerging the meat in water but changing the water every 30 minutes to ensure it stays cold. According to the NSW Food Authority website, a whole chicken of 1.5 to 2 kilos can start to defrost in parts between two and three hours.

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