Can frozen raw poultry be thawed safely at room temperature (<21°C)?
By Richard Sprenger
Most salmonella food poisoning outbreaks involving frozen poultry are due to failure to cook thoroughly (or contamination and subsequent temperature abuse). So, whichever method of thawing is used, a disinfected tip-sensitive thermometer should be used to ensure safe cooking temperatures have been achieved. I am not a fan of using colour/clear juices to verify thorough cooking as these are inconsistent and subjective controls. Furthermore, it is estimated that 3 million people, mainly men, in the UK are colour blind and many of these will not be able to distinguish red from brown.
Most advice provided is to thaw frozen poultry in a refrigerator so that the salmonella on the surface of the bird does not multiply once it has thawed. However, thawing in a refrigerator introduces several risks and research has shown that there was no salmonella growth on the surface of frozen poultry thawed at or below 21°C to an internal temperature of between 0°C and 5°C. (Once the bird has thawed it should be cooked or stored below 5°C.)
The thawing time in a refrigerator depends on the weight of the bird and the temperature of the refrigerator. It takes considerably longer to thaw a bird at 1C compared to 5C. A 1.1kg bird can be thawed in 8 hours at 20°C, 40 hours at 5°C and 70 hours at 1°C. So the lower the temperature of the fridge the more likely insufficient time will be allowed for the bird to thaw. If the bird is cooked, before being completely thawed, according to recipe times as opposed to checking the temperature at the ‘coolest point’ has reached 75°C, then undercooking is likely and there is a considerably increased risk of food poisoning.
Furthermore, there is an unacceptable risk of cross-contamination of food and the surfaces of the refrigerator from salmonella and campylobacter if thawing takes place in a refrigerator used for the storage of high-risk food. In the USA some food safety organisations are so concerned about the risk of cross-contamination that they recommend cooking poultry from frozen, as long as they check a safe cooking temperature has been achieved with a disinfected tip-sensitive thermometer.
So, in conclusion, from the research on which this article was based, frozen raw poultry can be thawed safely at room temperature.
Incidentally, large frozen turkeys can take so long to thaw in a refrigerator that they may spoil before they are thawed.
Further commentary on this subject is available in an article written by Dr O.P. Snyder, which can be read here.