Oh Dear. Cooking Frozen Chicken in a Crock-Pot May Be Unsafe
If you've thrown frozen chicken into a slow cooker, Instant Pot or Crock-Pot you're not alone. Plenty of timesaving recipes on the Internet call for frozen poultry. Though skipping the drawn-out thawing process makes life a whole lot easier for busy home cooks, it's not necessarily safe.
Despite claims from manufacturers that this common practice poses zero health risks, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued guidelines warning against cooking frozen chicken in slow cookers. In fact, its Slow Cooker and Food Safety guidelines state the following outright: "always thaw meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker."
Today decided to get to the bottom of the issue by reaching out to a representative from Crock-Pot. "You can cook frozen meat in any Crock-Pot brand product, but suggested cook time may need to be increased," the representative stated, adding that the company recommends using a meat thermometer to ensure that the internal temperature of the chicken is "well above" 165 degrees before eating it. Instant Pot offered a similar answer, reiterating the importance of increased cook time.
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So what is the USDA so worried about? Although their guidelines are admittedly overcautious, slow cookers do raise serious concerns about temperature. Everyone agrees that at some point while it's cooking, chicken needs to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees in order to be safe to eat. What the USDA is concerned with is when chicken spends too much time thawing out in the "danger zone." The danger zone is the temperature range between 40 degrees and 140 degrees where bacteria like salmonella and staphylococcus aureus grow most rapidly. Even though these will most likely be killed when the chicken reaches 165 degrees (which a slow cooker is more than capable of), the toxins they leave behind can still cause food-borne illnesses.
What's a hungry Crock-Pot lover to do? It's always a good idea to listen to the USDA to limit the chance of food-borne illness, but at the very least, add more cook time if you're starting with frozen chicken.