One of the biggest nightmares that can happen to a restaurant is to have its diners experience foodborne illnesses or food poisoning.
And while many factors can contaminate food during and after preparation, the least that your restaurant kitchen should be dealing with are bacterias from food that are not properly thawed.
There is no excuse for it because ideally, your kitchen should have systems in place to forecast the quantity of frozen raw meats/produce for the next day. This ensures that your kitchen staff will not have to resort to emergency thawing. Included in this system should be your Pull Thaw Sheet to help you monitor how much food should be defrosted each day. The Pull Thaw Sheet consists of the total Inventory of previously frozen products in your walk-in refrigerator; the Par which is the specific amount of product to be pulled out from the freezer into the walk-in; and the difference of the two which is equal to the amount that needs to be thawed to support your next day’s operation.
However, there will be situations that may defy your iron-clad Par forecast. And in cases of an urgent need to make use of frozen items, how can your kitchen ensure that you are meeting customer’s orders while meeting food safety requirements?
It is important to know that some food items have more tendency to become unsafe than others. These food items are known as Time/Temperature Control for Safety (TCS) Food. TCS food requires time-temperature control to prevent the growth of microorganisms and the production of toxins. Check out this poster for more information.
But first, here is a ground rule:
NEVER thaw frozen food at room temperature! It doesn’t matter if it is not exposed to outside elements, e.g., covered in a counter. The DANGER ZONE is between 5°C to 60°C where foodborne pathogens can proliferate. Frozen food is safe from bacteria until it is defrosted improperly, then all the bacteria that may have been present before it was frozen can multiply.
Instead of doing that practice, here are safe thawing tips:
- Thaw inside the refrigerator
Transfer food from the freezer to your refrigerator that is 5°C or lower/cooler to thaw.
This is definitely not the quickest way; therefore, planning is important. If large items need to be thawed, it may even take up to several days. For example, a turkey can take at least 24 hours to thaw it in the refrigerator safely. A boneless chicken may take the whole day. Position the frozen food item in the innermost part of the refrigerator to avoid exposure to draft during the frequent opening of the door.
In cases of frozen fish, know that there are types of fish that produce allergy-causing histamines: tuna, mackerel, mahi-mahi, anchovy, herring, bluefish, amberjack and marlin. These should always be thawed in a refrigerator or microwave to minimise the production of histamine in the fish. Cooking does not destroy histamine.
Same goes for ready-to-eat frozen food, thaw them in the refrigerator or in the microwave.
Make sure that the thawing food is placed in a container that will catch any liquid to prevent contaminating other foods.
Can you refreeze food thawed in the refrigerator? Yes, but there may be changes in quality due to moisture loss in thawing.
- Thaw in cold running water
This is certainly a faster method than thawing in the refrigerator but needs more attention. Water temperature should be less than 5°C, and the food should thaw in under 2 hours. You have to ensure that the food is in a leakproof package or inside a plastic bag that has no tears. This is to prevent opportunities that may cause the bacteria to go to the food. It will also prevent water to be absorbed by the meat.
Make sure that you have clean adequate sink space. Submerge the leak-proof bag in cold running water. The sufficient flowing of water ensures rapid thawing and prevents the thawed liquid from pooling on the food product.
Have a thermometer handy to monitor the food. Once it is thawed, remove it immediately from the water to ensure it is not kept at temperatures above 5°C.
Once the food is thawed completely, cook the food immediately.
Take note that if you keep this as a go-to solution, your water consumption will be affected.
Why must you not thaw food in warm water? Doing this will cause the outer layer of food to reach the Danger Zone while the inside part may still be frozen.
- Thaw using a microwave
This is definitely the fastest option but do this ONLY if the food will be cooked immediately after. Due to the uneven heating patterns of this kitchen appliance, some parts of the food may begin to cook during the thawing process. And partially cooked food can still harbour bacteria.
- Don’t thaw at all
If you are really pressed for time, go ahead and cook that frozen food.
Just remember that you have to cook the food longer than the usual recommended time to ensure it’s cooked thoroughly.
Some foods that can be cooked frozen are:
- Meat patties
- Chicken nuggets
- Vegetables – There’s no need to thaw most vegetables. The cooking process handles the thawing for you while retaining texture. Exceptions are leafy greens and corn on the cob.
As modern times progress we are beginning to see some advances in thawing technology. Here is an interesting read – https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1541-4337.12458. While the world is still catching up to it, the above-mentioned options are considered safe options when thawing food items.
The best option for thawing frozen food is by thawing in the refrigerator where it will remain at a constant and safe temperature — at 5°C or below. The other options can be avoided if your kitchen team is diligent with your SOPs when it comes to food prep. Your Pull Thaw Sheet is there for a reason and accomplishing this form with accurate physical inventory can prevent run-outs of thawed items. This is also a reflection of your management and effectivity of staff training. Last resort, do not compromise food safety. Remove items from your menu if you need to rather than risk your diners’ health. And let that be a lesson for your kitchen team so that it will not happen again.
That’s it for this week.
As always, Professional Chefs on Call at Anytime!
Ciao for now,