HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Can meat be defrosted on the counter?

  • j
  • jrmd Dec 14, 2007 11:33 AM

My husband took burgers out of the freezer and left them on the counter instead of putting them in the refrigerator. Should we toss them or can we cook them later when we get home from work?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Posting Guidelines | FAQs | Feedback
  1. Toss them!! I would not take a chance...

    1. Down the drain. too bad.

      9 Replies
      1. re: jfood

        Huh? I do it all the time, so far still alive.

        1. re: PeterL

          My mom always did it too. I've never had any kind of food poisoning. If it smells OK, eat it.

          1. re: Lucia

            they are fine. unless it's been days...

            1. re: TBird

              days??? yikes, that's a bit extreme.

            2. re: Lucia

              Same with my mom! That's how she defrosts things!

            3. re: PeterL

              We do it all the time as well. As long as the meat is still cold to the touch, I wouldn't think there would be a problem. A scientist might differ but we have done this for 25 years and have never become sick.

              1. re: brentk

                heh, to each his own and good luck. Chopped meat is about as unstable as you can get and 9 hours at room temp scares the behoogies out of jfood. But if you guys have experiences and feel comfortable, jfood bows in appreciation.

                Jfood takes the burgers out of the freezer (1/3 pounders) and 4 minutes at power 4 in the MV. Then onto the grill. Just can;t get his arms around the counter stuff, but jfood has been told he was wrong in the past on other food safety stuff (i.e. butter on the counter) so he will add this to the list.

                Hope you have some good cheese and bacon for the burgers.

                1. re: jfood

                  jfood, I should live next door to you. I'd never have to buy food, just wait for stuff you get rid of for safety reasons.

                  Reply: partly depends on room and freezer temperatures. My freezer has meat so rock hard that a couple of days minimum are needed to defrost in the ref. Also live where rooms are never over-heated, too hot, too cold, or whatever. Natural room temperature here is always about 76 F. I use the counter.

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka


                    I'll talk to my neighbors. nice plot, 4 acres and a pond and i'll like you much much better.

                    Now you know why jfood buys only for that night and cooks it. And he does not do doggie bags. and he does not...

                    Jfood is extremely conservative at home. Onthe road, he don't ask, he don;t know.

          2. How long will they have been out for? If they haven't warmed up too much - that is, they just defrosted but are still cold - they may be OK.

            1. If you work in a food prep business, it's not legal, but we've always thawed at room temp. In fact, it's best to cook it when it's at room temp.

              3 Replies
              1. re: scuzzo

                Whoa guys, he didn't mention how long it was out. We routinely partially thaw frozen meat on the counter, then let it finish thawing in the frig. There is nothing wrong with it, and it is safe. Now, letting something thaw overnight on the counter is another thing....

                1. re: Hensley

                  LOL - My mom did it, and my in-laws still do it. Then again, they cook Thanksgiving turkey in the morning and it sits on the counter for 6 hours or so until everyone is ready to eat. All the sausage, ground beef, etc. thaws at room temp then get cooked and sits at room temp for another few hours. It is a nightmare -- but they don't seem to get ill. I have though, and steer clear of most meat and any leftovers there.

                  1. re: Hensley

                    Yes, this is what I have done too....in a pinch, as long as I'm home to moniter the thaw.

                2. I do it all the time too. I do try to put in fridge once its mostly thawed out but I have left it out from morning till dinner time and cooked it and we are still alive. My mom did it too. Now there are things she did that I would NOT do like refreeze thawed meat several times. I would be very leary if it was left out all night though, but if it was just for the a day I think you should be ok.
                  Most meat I find in stores these days is partially frozen so I either use it that day or put it in freezer immediately.

                  1. I don't think I would do this with ground meat from my local big box market, given all the handling the meat has gone through. Still, I thaw meat on my counter if it's meat I know has been handled very little. Our venison is processed and wrapped by one guy. The giant fresh ham I just cooked was subjected to minimal handling (scald, scrape, two cuts...). I feel comfortable letting these cuts thaw at room temp. (and need to with large cuts - after 7 days in the frig. my fresh ham was still quite frozen).

                    It's chilly winter here in Minnesota right now, and the thermostat is set at 65 degrees, so I'm not feeling uncomfortable about countertop thawing of large cuts. Would I do the hamburger in 80 degree weather? Nope. But that's more about the provenance of the hamburger, than the temperature.



                    1. "Can" and "should" are different things... can you defrost meat on the counter? Sure. You can eat raw hamburger and chicken from Safeway! You can dance naked in your front lawn! There are a lot of things you *can* do... But I wouldn't ever say that defrosting meat on the counter *should* be done if there is another option. Meat can be defrosted very quickly and much more safely under cold running water in the sink than being left on the counter for hours.

                      I would probably toss them unless they are still mostly frozen when you get home, but ground meat freaks me out.

                      Oh, and "hasn't killed me yet" isn't a terribly compelling argument, IMHO. Driving hasn't killed me yet but I'm still careful.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: jnstarla

                        But you still drive. I wouldn't cook it rare, is that careful enough?

                      2. jfood just being the messenger here since he already took his whacks. But just read this

                        From the USDA Website:


                        What is the best way to thaw ground beef?
                        The best way to safely thaw ground beef is in the refrigerator. Keeping meat cold while it is defrosting is essential to prevent growth of bacteria. Cook or refreeze it within 1 or 2 days.

                        To defrost ground beef more rapidly, you can defrost in the microwave oven or in cold water. If using the microwave, cook the ground beef immediately because some areas may begin to cook during the defrosting. To defrost in cold water, put the meat in a watertight plastic bag and submerge. Change the water every 30 minutes. Cook immediately. Do not refreeze ground meat thawed in cold water or in the microwave oven.

                        Never leave ground beef or any perishable food out at room temperature for more than 2 hours.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: jfood

                          "Cook or refreeze it within 1 or 2 days"

                          Interesting. I always thought once, defrosted, you could/should not refreeze.

                          1. re: SweetPea914

                            I think that's for taste reasons, not safety, and the USDA doesn't care about taste.

                        2. Bacteria grow between 40 and 140 degrees farenheit. And the ideal temperature for growth is in the middle of that range.

                          So the first question is how many bacteria are around. Industrial ground beef will have more bugs than the stuff you ground yourself with solid muscle cuts.

                          The next question is what temperature the meat reached during the defrosting process. If your heat turns down while you're out of the house and the kitchen was around 60 degrees, you'll have a lot less growth than if the counter in question is next to a standing pilot and hovers around 80 degrees.

                          Finally, there's the question of how long the meat spent in the "danger zone." Burgers that sat on the counter for an hour probably never got above 40 degrees except on the outer edges (which are presumably going to get cooked anyway). If they've been there for a day or two, the whole patty has probably been a biology experiment for a while.


                          The real risk here is a "black e. coli" infection. And those little bugs are all dead when you expose them to 140 degree heat for 10 minutes. In other words, if you cook your burgers medium or medium-well, and let them rest for a while before consumption, you have absolutely nothing to worry about.

                          If you want to eat them rare, you're exposing yourself to a small, but significant, risk of food poisoning. As long as you're a healthy adult, the worst-case scenario is a few days of misery. But it really isn't pleasant.

                          Long and short, if the patties have been at room temp for more than a couple of hours, and if you can't bear to eat a burger that's been cooked through, your best bet is to pitch them. Otherwise, dig in.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: alanbarnes

                            Re: "Bacteria grow between 40 and 140 degrees farenheit."

                            You mean the bacteria that commonly affect foods we eat. Bacteria as a whole are adapted to a significantly larger temperature range.

                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                              Not to mention some bacteria leave some pretty nasty things behind and no amount of cooking can destroy those (unless you plan to grill it on the sun)

                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                You're correct. I was talking about coliform bacteria, the main pathogen found in unrefrigerated ground beef. They're a tiny slice of the bacterial world. Should have been more specific.

                                As to the waste excreted by said bugs, it's my understanding that it's largely harmless. Botulinum are another matter, but that's an anaerobic process.

                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                  I agree. Jackp and I frequently thaw things are room temperature but make sure we cook them to a temp high enough to kill most bacteria. Of course, some of them - trichinosis, for example - are not killed by normal cooking temperatures and are absent only because of the way the meat was raised. But we've never had a problem with thawing meat on the counter.

                                  1. re: jillp

                                    Trichina are killed at 144 degrees.

                              2. I think it totally depends on you and what you can handle.

                                I've defrosted like that for myself. I've eaten loads of iffy food. On the other hand, I have a friend that has gotten sick from barely-pink chicken...

                                Personally, I would never, ever, EVER, serve anything less than fresh to someone other than myself. I trust my immune system, but I would NEVER gamble with someone else's -- even if it is my spouse's. :p

                                1. I have the worst food safety ): If it was me, I'd leave it out at room temp all night or all day and still cook it. My mom did it all the time.

                                  Leave a steak or something in sink in the morning, go to work, and cook it when you come back. Of course I don't get sick doing this and yes I do this with chicken and pork along with the beef. I guess I am just lucky...maybe other people would get sick.

                                  if you don't want your room temperature meat, I'll take it off your hands

                                  I will also leave out lasagna or pizza out on the kitchen counter all night long and eat it cold for breakfast the next day. My boyfriend once threw away a whole entire lasagna that I left out and I was furious. Who gives a crap if I'm the only person who's going to eat it?

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: bitsubeats

                                    Agreed...my parents freeze everything, so I have fond memories of waking up to some package defrosting on the countertop (on a plate of course). It was a good way to know to have a late lunch (if it was something I was not particurlary fond of) or just stock up on breakfast!! I never really thought about it, I suppose, since it was an every day thing growing up.

                                  2. I'm in the camp that says it's ok to start defrosting on the counter (otherwise defrosting takes a couple days here). I leave meat on the counter for about an hour, then finish it off in the fridge. Leaving meat out all day would result in said meat being thrown in the garbage at my house though!

                                    What did you end up doing?

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: SweetPea914

                                      I tossed it. When I got home from work it was fully defrosted and at room temp. Didn't want to take a chance.

                                      Thanks for all the comments!

                                      1. re: jrmd

                                        oh Good! I always go by the "better safe than sorry rule" myself.

                                    2. Just because some say they've never had a problem with frozen hamburger (patties) being defrosted at room temperature doesn't mean it's safe. Let them take their chances. Acceptable methods for defrosting meats, according to the USDA and other knowledgeable sources, are refrigerator defrosting, cold water defrosting, and microwave defrosting...period. From the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service Fact Sheet (link to full article below excerpt)...

                                      What is the best way to thaw ground beef?
                                      The best way to safely thaw ground beef is in the refrigerator. Keeping meat cold while it is defrosting is essential to prevent growth of bacteria. Cook or refreeze it within 1 or 2 days.

                                      To defrost ground beef more rapidly, you can defrost in the microwave oven or in cold water. If using the microwave, cook the ground beef immediately because some areas may begin to cook during the defrosting. To defrost in cold water, put the meat in a watertight plastic bag and submerge. Change the water every 30 minutes. Cook immediately. Do not refreeze ground meat thawed in cold water or in the microwave oven.

                                      Never leave ground beef or any perishable food out at room temperature for more than 2 hours.


                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: crt

                                        If I'm in a hurry, I always defrost in plastic in cold water. (Put the frozen meat in a ziplock and plunge in a bowl of cold water.) Otherwise, in the fridge.

                                      2. SweatPea914 wrote...

                                        "Cook or refreeze it within 1 or 2 days"

                                        "Interesting. I always thought once, defrosted, you could/should not refreeze."

                                        For those who don't follow recommended safe food handling procedures and defrost ground beef at room temperature, I would strongly advise against refreezing any unused portion(s). But hey since most of those folks don't have a problem with defrosting at room temperature why should they have a problem refreezing unused portions of room temperature defrosted ground beef??? Let's see how brave you are now!

                                        The USDA recommendation here is that it is safe to refreeze unused portions of ground beef that have been defrosted in the refrigerator where it has been kept at a much slower bacterial growth rate at 40 degrees (or lower) during the defrosting process as opposed to that of room temperature defrosted ground beef.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: crt

                                          I think the problem with refreezing isn't safety, it's quality. Clarence Birdseye himself is said to have started the idea that there was a safety issue, not because there was, but because he knew it would degrade the quality of his stuff and give frozen food a bad name in the market in those early years. Of course this pertained to vegetables not meats, but the same issue is there with meat AFAIK. Sort of why not-from-concentrate o.j. tastes better than that from concentrate--the extra concentrate step involves one more pasteurization, which degrades quality.

                                          As to USDA recommendations, and similar recommendations of others, the problem with those is they are set by lawyers and bureaucrats, not real people, as it were. They err heavily on the ultraconservative side due to the CYA need. Remember, these are the same people who still tell you to cook your pork and turkey until it has no juice, or flavor, left, for "safety." I think you can "safely" deduct 20 degrees or so from anything they say about cooking temperature, and add quite of bit of time for being out of the cooler while defrosting. The bacteria don't grow into a quantity needed to cause problems instantaneously.