Can You Refreeze Meat, Fish or Poultry That Has Thawed?

You can, bearing in mind a few key things.

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May 18, 2021

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Have you ever taken out meat or fish to defrost only to realize you don’t have time to cook it? The dilemma becomes whether you should refreeze it or toss it. Here’s a look at the safety guidelines for freezing, thawing and refreezing meat, poultry and fish.

Freezing Facts

When it comes to freezing food, there are several things to know. Freezing at a temperature of 0 F inactivates microbes like bacteria, yeast, and molds found in food. However, once the food is thawed, these microbes can once again become active under the right conditions and lead to foodborne illness if not handled properly. As such, all frozen food should be handled as you would any perishable food.

Freezing meat, poultry and fish doesn’t destroy nutrients. There is actually very little change in nutrient value during freezer storage of these foods.

What About Freezer Burn?

Freezer burn leads to dryness in spots but doesn’t make the food unsafe. It can happen if you continuously open and close the freezer door shifting the temperatures inside your freezer. You may see grayish-brown leathery spots which is cause by air coming into contact with the food. Before or after cooking the food, cut freezer-burned portions of the food and discard. If the food is heavily freezer-burned, you may want to toss it as the quality can be severely compromised.

Freezing Meat and Fish

In order to maintain the best quality, freeze foods as quickly as possible. Rapid freezing minimizes those large ice crystals from forming throughout the product which can ruin the quality of the food.

Proper packaging helps maintain quality and also prevents freezer burn. It is safe to freeze meat, poultry and fish directly in its original packaging. However, if you plan on storing meat, poultry and fish over a few weeks, this type of packaging is permeable to air and the quality can decrease over time. If you plan on storing meat, poultry, or fish for several months in the freezer, use airtight heavy duty packaging like aluminum foil, plastic wrap, or freezer paper. Do not rinse your meat, poultry or fish before freezing. Vacuum packed meat, poultry, ad fish can be frozen as is. If you notice a hole or tear in the package, then rewrap it or use a heavy duty overwrap.

Recommended storage times for foods in the freezer:

  • Uncooked meat roasts, steaks or chops: 4 to 12 months
  • Uncooked ground meats: 3 to 4 months
  • Cooked meat: 2 to 3 months
  • Uncooked whole poultry: 12 months
  • Uncooked poultry parts: 9 months
  • Cooked poultry: 4 months
  • Uncooked fish: 3 to 8 months
  • Uncooked shellfish: 3 to 12 months
  • Cooked fish: 3 months

How to Thaw Frozen Food

Frozen food should never be thawed at room temperature as it can make the food unsafe. You can thaw foods in the refrigerator overnight for 1 to 2 days. Larger items like whole turkey can take longer. Estimate about 1 day per 5 pounds of weight. You can also thaw in cold water. First, place food in a leak proof plastic bag and then immerse into cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes. After thawing, cook immediately.

You can also thaw in the microwave, but should cook your food immediately afterwards. This is because there is an uneven distribution of heat in the microwave which means that part of the food may already start cooking.

What About Refreezing?

If you thawed your meat, poultry, and fish properly in the refrigerator, then you can refreeze it without cooking. However, there may be some loss of quality because of the moisture loss through thawing. After cooking the meat, poultry, and fish that was refrozen, you can also refreeze it. If the food is left outside the refrigerator for over 2 hours, or over 1 hour if the temperature is 90 F or above, it cannot be frozen.

If you purchased meat, poultry, or fish that was from the frozen section at your grocery store, you can refreeze it given that you handled it properly.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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