How to defrost chicken safely and other food safety tips

1. How do you defrost chicken safely?

You've got three options:

  • Fridge: put the chicken in a large dish or pan to catch any dripping as it thaws. Put it on the bottom shelf of the fridge so that it can't drip on to other food below it. If you've unwrapped it from its packaging, rewrap it tightly in cling film. Timings? Rule of thumb is five hours per pound of chicken, so a 5lb chicken will take 24 hours (one day) to defrost. If you can plan ahead, the fridge is the least faff-y method.
  • Cold water method: make sure the chicken is in a waterproof wrapper (it's easiest just to leave it in its original packaging) and place it in a full bowl of cold water. Refill the cold water every 30 minutes. Never use warm water. Timings? Rule of thumb is 30 minutes per pound of chicken, so a 5lb chicken will take 2.5 hours to defrost. 
  • Microwave: is trickiest because you can end up partially cooking the chicken rather than defrosting it. Timings? Read your microwave's manual, because they vary slightly. Don't guess. Microwaves works better for defrosting pieces of chicken, rather than the whole thing. This method also involves a certain amount of attention because you'll need to allow for 'sitting' time in between defrosting time. 

2. How do you cook chicken safely?

Make sure you cook the chicken at the right temperature to kill any harmful bacteria, and check it is piping hot all the way through before serving.

Cut into the middle of the meat (the thickest part of the leg if cooking a whole chicken) to check it is not pink and the juices run clear. Steam should come out when you cut it, or you could use a food thermometer - the temperature should be 74 degrees celsius (165 F).

3. Do you need to wash raw chicken?

No. Cooking it at the correct temperature will kill harmful bacteria. By washing it, you could splash the bacteria on to other kitchen surfaces. But you should wash your hands every time you handle raw food and wash all chopping boards and knives in hot, soapy water. 

Barbecue on grass with blue sky

4. How do you barbecue meat safely?

It's all about cooking the meat evenly over the correct temperature because undercooked or raw meat contains bacteria that can cause revolting stomach bugs.

  • If you're using frozen meat, ensure it's properly thawed
  • The BBQ coals should have a powdery grey surface and be glowing red before you start cooking.
  • Turn the meat regularly and move it around the BBQ to ensure it is cooked evenly
  • Before you serve it, check that it's piping hot in the centre, with no pink meat 

5. Is it safe to reheat rice?

Yes, but only if the rice has been kept in the fridge for no longer than a day and only if it's steaming hot all the way through. You risk food poisoning by reheating rice that has been kept at room temperature because spores in the rice can grow into bacteria that cause vomiting and diarrhoea.  

Colander with vegetables

6. Should you wash fruit and vegetables before eating them?

Yes, but only after you've washed your own hands first. You should rub the fruit or veg in a bowl of cold water and then rinse under cold running water. Washing fruit and veg removes bacteria from soil, fertilisers, bird and animal faeces. The same goes for raw salad veg.

7. Should you keep eggs in the fridge?

Yes, and in their box. Eggs can contain salmonella bacteria so 'best before' dates (see 9, below) don't apply to eggs. Don't eat eggs after their 'best before' date, say the food safety experts.

8. How do you store and warm expressed breast milk safely?

If your fridge temperature is 4°C or below, you can keep expressed breast milk (EBM) for up to five days at the back of a fridge shelf. If you're not sure what temperature your fridge is, don't keep the EBM for more than three days. You can keep EBM in the freezer for up to six months (date it when you freeze it) at -18°C or below. Defrost in the fridge and don't refreeze.

To warm EBM, put it in a jug of lukewarm water and test the temperature on your wrist before you give it your baby.

And what about warming EBM more than once? There doesn't seem to be a clear consensus on this, but says that if the milk is warmed up but not used, then it's OK to reheat it again once. But it adds that the more you reheat breast milk, the more you decrease its immunologic properties.

Frozen raspberries

9. How long can you keep defrosted foods?

It depends whether the defrosted food is raw or cooked:

  • Raw defrosted food can be kept in the fridge for up to two days before cooking
  • Defrosted cooked food should be reheated and eaten immediately once fully defrosted

Avoid food waste by freezing food in portions, so that you only defrost the quantities you need.

10. How long can you keep cooked leftovers?

Two days maximum. Allow leftovers to cool at room temperature before you put them in the fridge. Hot food can't cool evenly in a fridge, so you risk food poisoning.

11. What's the difference between 'use by' and 'best before'?

'Use by' is about food safety and 'best before' is about food quality (except for eggs, see 5, above).

  • 'Use by' is on the packaging of foods that go off fairly quickly and is based on scientific tests that have established when harmful bacteria will st. 'Use by' doesn't necessarily mean 'eat by' if the food can be frozen (but make sure you use it within the time limit set for freezing it, whether that's one week, one month or whatever). Once you've opened a 'use by' food, follow the instructions for storing and using, eg store in fridge and eat within two days of opening.
  • 'Best before' means that the food will have the best flavour and texture before that date. After the date has passed, it won't necessarily be harmful, but it may not taste as nice. 

'Display by' and 'sell by' are used by food shops for stock control, they're not aimed at shoppers.

Last updated: about 3 years ago