Here's Why You Should Never Thaw Chicken On The Counter

It can be tempting to expedite the thawing process by leaving a frozen piece of chicken on your counter to defrost — especially if dinnertime is fast approaching. But according to experts, room-temperature thawing is never worth the risk it poses to one's health and safety.

According to the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service, poultry needs to be kept at a safe temperature while defrosting. Leaving chicken to thaw on the counter (or running it under hot water to defrost it) will expose the bird to the temperature danger zone, making it highly susceptible to harmful bacterial growth. This danger zone is reached anytime a perishable item like frozen chicken falls between 40- and 140-degrees Fahrenheit.

Notably, cooking the chicken will not rid it entirely of bacteria accumulated while defrosting at room temperature, per While cooking poultry will certainly help to eliminate bacterial growth, the outlet warns that the amount of bacteria that remains after cooking will depend on the size of the bacteria population prior to the cooking process.

The USDA also points out that even if the center of your bird is still frozen, the exterior, which tends to defrost more quickly, could be harboring bacterial growth. As a general rule of thumb, poultry and other perishables must not remain out at room temperature beyond two hours.

How to safely thaw frozen chicken

Fortunately, there are several alternative methods to thawing chicken that are perfectly safe. According to The Spruce Eats, rather than thaw chicken on the counter at room temperature, the most reliable way to do so safely is to defrost the chicken in the refrigerator. 

While the refrigerator method is generally the most-recommended method, as Healthline explains, it can require some advance planning — especially if you're dealing with a large piece of poultry. The USDA's thawing guidelines for frozen turkey, which are based on weight, can be helpful in this regard. Per the USDA, you should allow 24 hours of refrigerator thawing for every 5 pounds.

If you're truly strapped for time, The Kitchn says you can submerge frozen chicken (that has been sealed in a leak-proof bag or package) in cold water to thaw it. If you use this water bath method, you'll need to switch the cold water out every 30 minutes to ensure the temperature stays below 40 degrees, aka the danger zone. The chicken should also be used immediately upon thawing.

Lastly, you have the option to skip defrosting altogether. While the USDA estimates cooking times will take about 50% longer than usual, cooking poultry (and other perishables) from a frozen state is a safe and practical solution. The big takeaway from all this is to never thaw your chicken on the counter; there are better and definitely safer ways.