Have you been defrosting food the wrong way? Why what you need is a bowl of cold water

Thawing food in water is better than defrosting in the fridge or the microwave, apparently.

Most people know that thawing food properly before cooking it is vital for food safety and your own health. But what you might not know is that you’ve probably been thawing it the wrong way all this time.

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Swedish food scientists have now explained the correct way to defrost food – and it’s all about the speed of the thaw…

Water works

Rather than thawing food in the fridge or in the microwave, Susanne Ekstedt, from the Food and Bioscience unit of SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden, suggests the best way to thaw frozen meat or fish is to put it in cold water.

The frozen food needs to be carefully wrapped in plastic or placed in a sealed freezer bag to keep it dry, and then immersed in water. This thaws food quickly and effectively, Ekstedt told ScienceNordic.

The reason defrosting in water is preferable is because water conducts heat better than air. And the faster food is thawed, the better it tastes.

“This is something food scientists have known to be true for a long time now,” says Ekstedt, who made the recommendations based on the institute’s experiments with freezing and thawing various foods.

“But this knowledge is mostly confined to the food industry. Most people don’t seem to be aware of this,” she says.

Fridge store, not thaw

Many people believe it’s best to thaw food, and particularly meat, slowly in the fridge. But while it is indeed important to keep food cold while thawing to help prevent bacteria from multiplying rapidly, it’s quicker and more effective to thaw food in cold water, where it should also remain cool.

And Norwegian scientists say there’s never been any good scientific evidence behind the advice that food should be thawed in the fridge anyway.

[Read more: Why you should never wash raw chicken and other food safety facts]

What about the microwave?

These days many people defrost food quickly in the microwave, but despite the speed, experts say microwave thawing can affect the quality of food, particularly meat – although this depends on the way it’s cooked.

If meat’s going to be used in a stew, for example, thawing in a microwave is fine as the meat will tenderise as it slowly cooks.

But if meat is to be grilled, thawing it in the microwave first can be detrimental to the quality and it may be dry, say scientists.

Why thaw thoroughly?

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) explains that if food is still frozen or partially frozen, it’ll take longer to cook, and while the outside of the food may be thoroughly cooked, the centre might not be - meaning it could contain harmful bacteria that could cause food poisoning.

The FSA says ideally cooks should plan ahead and leave enough time to defrost food in the fridge, which will keep it at a safe temperature.

However, the Agency also says defrosting in water is a good alternative option if you can’t defrost food in the fridge.

It suggests putting the frozen food in a container and placing it under cold running water to help speed up defrosting without the food getting too warm.

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