Can you refreeze thawed foods?
Yes! But only if they were properly defrosted in the first place – which we explain in detail.
Growing up as a well intentioned but spoiled fresh-food snob in the land of fresh food itself, Southern California, I routinely dismissed the appliance known as a freezer. Ah, the luxury of youthful naivete – now that I understand the magic that the freezer performs, I wouldn’t want to live without one. It adds convenience, yes, but most importantly it allows us to cut down on food waste dramatically. Popping things into the freezer that we can’t get to right away holds them in suspension until we’re ready for them – in many cases without sacrificing taste, texture, or nutritive value. All praise the freezer!
But there are a lot of myths surrounding this noble appliance and its powers – perhaps the most commonly believed one is that you can’t refreeze something once it’s been defrosted. Such isn’t always the case, at least according to Tina Hanes, a registered dietitian with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Says she, any food – raw or cooked, as long as it hasn’t spoiled – can be frozen again once it’s been thawed, as long as it was thawed properly. Which means, defrosted in the refrigerator, not out on the counter — and hasn’t spoiled. And yes, that’s any food, including intimidating food-safety items like raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood, says Hanes.
“It’s one of the most popular questions we get on our hotline,” she says, “but it is safe to refreeze raw meat, as long as it’s not spoiled.”
And she has other tidbits from the (maybe) “Oops, I never knew” department:
- You should never thaw frozen meat, poultry, fish or seafood by placing it on the counter at room temperature. “Thawing on the counter is not safe, period. You should never do that.”
- You shouldn't thaw frozen meat, poultry, fish or seafood by placing it under warm running water, “because bacteria like it warm, like we do, and multiply rapidly at room temperature.
- Do not refreeze raw meat or fish if you thawed it by putting it in the microwave or placing it under cold running water.
- You can defrost raw food in its plastic packaging by sitting it in cold water that is changed every 30 minutes; but that food should be cooked immediately. Any food that was defrosted in this manner should not be returned to the fridge or freezer.
- And lastly, don’t let thawed raw meat linger for too long in the refrigerator before returning it to the freezer, since it runs the risk of becoming spoiled. For instance, chicken should be cooked or refrozen within two days of being thawed in the refrigerator.
So there you have it ... and take it from this recovered freezer snob, freezing works wonders. There are some things that don’t take to the process perfectly – like, delicate berries will not emerge from the freezer looking like their pert former selves, but they will still serve you wonderfully well in baking and smoothies. But so many things can be frozen and remain perfectly intact afterwards, allowing us another way in which we can beat food waste – and there's no room for snobbery when it comes to that.
More on freezing food here: