It happens to all of us at least a few times a year: something happens and we wonder if it’s safe to refreeze thawed frozen food. There are several different ways this can happen:
- You lose power in your home for an extended period of time and the frozen food in your freezer thaws.
- You’ve just purchased a variety of frozen food items at the grocery store, but experience a delay in getting home before they start to thaw.
- After placing frozen food in the refrigerator to thaw, you decide you aren’t going to use it after all.
In all of these situations we’re left wondering… Can I safely refreeze thawed frozen food???
Fortunately, the USDA has very clear guidelines for what to do (and not do!) in these situations and steps for how to evaluate your thawed frozen food to ensure it’s safe to refreeze or eat.
When you lose power at home:
When you’ve lost power at home, be sure to keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed unless you absolutely must open them. Most unopened refrigerators will maintain a safe temperature for approximately 4 hours and a freezer will hold its temperature for up to two days if it is full and remains unopened.
By using an appliance thermometer, you can easily tell if your frozen food is still safe to eat. Once power comes back, take a look at the thermometer. If the freezer temperature is 40 °F or below, your frozen food can safely be refrozen.
If you don’t have an appliance thermometer in your freezer, check your frozen food items for ice crystals. If ice crystals appear on the thawed or partially thawed food, it is safe to refreeze. However, it’s important to remember that refreezing may negatively impact the quality of some food. While food that has thawed and been refrozen will be safe to eat, once cooked, it may have a drier or tougher texture.
You experience a delay coming home from the grocery store:
Sometimes it’s just not possible to make it home from the grocery store before the frozen food starts to thaw. Whether it’s getting stuck in a traffic jam or discovering the air conditioning won’t work on the hottest day of summer, it’s easy to find yourself in a situation with thawed frozen food. As a preventative measure, keep an insulated cooler in the trunk of your car, and place your frozen food items into it when you’re loading groceries into the car. In the summer months, throw a few frozen gel packs or a bag of ice into the cooler before you leave for the grocery store to help ensure your frozen foods stay cold and frozen.
You’ve changed your mind after thawing food in the refrigerator:
Once frozen food has thawed in the refrigerator, it is safe to refreeze it, although the taste and texture of the food may be affected due to moisture loss. If previously cooked foods are thawed in the refrigerator (for example, a pan of lasagna), you should refreeze leftovers within 3-4 days. Never refreeze food that has been outside of the refrigerator for longer than 2 hours; and reduce that time to 1 hour if the temperature is above 90 °F. In addition, be sure to discard any frozen food items that have had contact with raw meat juices – once frozen veggies are placed in a pan with raw steak tips, there’s no turning back. You need to cook them ASAP!
Sometimes It Helps to Know What NOT to do!
- DO NOT thaw meat on the kitchen counter or at room temperature. Always thaw in the refrigerator to prevent bacteria growth.
- NEVER “taste test” or “sniff test” food to determine if it is safe to eat! You cannot rely on odor, visual appearance, or taste to determine if the food is safe to eat.
- DO NOT put your frozen and refrigerated food outside in the snow when the power goes out! Instead, take advantage of the cold by using ice to place inside your refrigerator and freezer.
To learn more about the USDA’s recommendations on how and when to refreeze thawed frozen food in each food group, visit their easy-to-use chart. Print out a copy and keep it in the kitchen! That way, you’ll know exactly what to do the next time you find yourself with thawed frozen food.