Rules for Refreezing Food

What should you do if your freezer fails? Learn these tricks and tips for what foods are safe to refreeze.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Editors
March/April 1982
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Learn how to keep your food safe if the freezer fails.
PHOTO: FOTOLIA/FOTOVIKA


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Freezing is one of the best methods available to preserve edibles, particularly if food quality and convenience in preparation for storage are of primary importance. Unfortunately, the process does force you to rely upon a fallible electrical appliance. You can almost bank on the fact that sometime, somehow — probably through no fault of your own — that freezer Is going to stop cooling.

Spring storms, for example, sometimes knock out electrical power to entire neighborhoods for days at a time. No matter how the malfunction occurs, there are ways to prevent food spoilage until the problem is solved.

Rules to Remember if the Freezer Breaks

The first thing not to do when your freezer falls is open the door to check on the food. Little thawing will take place during the first 12 hours provided the temperature within had been set at or near 0 degrees Fahrenheit. An unopened, fully loaded freezer can actually keep food safe for up to two days without electricity while a partially loaded chest will be effective for up to one day. (The moral is keep your freezer full, even if you have to use plastic gallon jugs filled with water to take up the empty spaces.) Other rules of thumb: The colder the food at the time of the mishap, the longer and better it will keep and the larger the freezer capacity, the longer the food will stay frozen.

If you're reasonably certain your electrical power will resume within 24 hours, it's probably best to leave your frozen edibles alone. Should It appear that the device will be out of service for longer than one day, it's wise to try to move your goods to a friend's freezer — or to a rental cold-storage locker — for the duration because even a large, fully loaded freezer just might not be able to recover and refreeze the huge quantities of food it contains before spoilage starts to set in. (If you do move your frozen edibles, remember to "insulate" them well for the journey by wrapping items in newspapers and blankets.)

If you don't have any convenient way to move your food, try purchasing some dry ice instead. Twenty-five pounds will maintain a 10-cubic-foot freezer for two to three days. (To determine the necessary amount, just multiply the cubic-foot capacity of your appliance by 2.5.)

You can locate sources of dry ice by consulting the Yellow Pages. Outlets may be listed under ice cream manufacturers and refrigeration suppliers. Or, you might try firms that sell compressed gas. Local dairies, fish markets, or electric utility companies may also be of assistance in locating a source.

Remember always to wear heavy gloves or use tongs when handling dry ice, to minimize the risk of being "burned" by the substance. Be certain the area around your freezer has adequate ventilation during the loading process since the thawing ice gives off tremendous amounts of carbon dioxide. Place the "cubes" (always on a heavy piece of cardboard) directly over the food — since cold air moves downward — and close the door. (If your freezer is only partially full, move all the items close together.)

What if frozen items melt?

Let's suppose the worst has happened: You unsuspectingly open the freezer door one day and discover that all the packages inside are well on their way to being completely defrosted. What do you do? First, check the foods to see if any still contain ice crystals. Those that do are safe to eat and many of them can be refrozen. Cold foods, even If no ice crystals are present, can also be considered safe but must be cooked before being returned to the freezer. (It's important to remember that refrozen or frozen cooked foods need to be used as quickly as possible to guarantee maximum nutritional quality.)

Never refreeze thawed vegetables (they may contain botulism spores, which would have ample time to grow and reproduce during the time it takes to refreeze), casserole dishes that contain meat, fish, or poultry or melted ice cream. Naturally, always use good judgment and toss out any food that looks or smells even a little suspicious.

Finally, use the following guidelines to help determine how to handle specific categories of edibles. Remember, if there's any doubt, throw it out. No food is worth the risk of poisoning yourself or someone else.

  • Breads, rolls, unfrosted cakes: Partially thawed, but still firm to the touch? Yes. Still cold (less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit) with some ice crystals still present? Yes. Completely thawed at room temperature for less than three hours? Yes, but they will dry out some. Completely thawed and warmed to room temperate for a prolonged period of time? Yes, but they will dry out some.
  • Fruits: Partially thawed, but still firm to the touch? Yes. Still cold (less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit) with some ice crystals still present? Yes. Completely thawed at room temperature for less than three hours? Yes, but some flavor and texture will be lost. Completely thawed and warmed to room temperate for a prolonged period of time? Yes if highly acidic. Discard others.
  • Fruit pies: Partially thawed, but still firm to the touch? Yes. Still cold (less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit) with some ice crystals still present? Yes. Completely thawed at room temperature for less than three hours? Yes, but best to use at once. Completely thawed and warmed to room temperate for a prolonged period of time? Questionable. Safer to discard.
  • Fruit juice concentrates: Partially thawed, but still firm to the touch? Yes. Still cold (less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit) with some ice crystals still present? Yes. Completely thawed at room temperature for less than three hours? Yes, but reconstituted juice will probably separate and have poor flavor. Completely thawed and warmed to room temperate for a prolonged period of time? No... Fermentation can cause cans to explode.
  • Garden vegetables: Partially thawed, but still firm to the touch? Yes. Still cold (less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit) with some ice crystals still present? Questionable... Some loss in quality if refrozen. Completely thawed at room temperature for less than three hours? No... Serve immediately or cook and refreeze. Completely thawed and warmed to room temperate for a prolonged period of time? No.
  • Prepared vegetables, packaged dinners, etc.: Partially thawed, but still firm to the touch? Yes. Still cold (less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit) with some ice crystals still present? Questionable... Consult package directions. Completely thawed at room temperature for less than three hours? No. Completely thawed and warmed to room temperate for a prolonged period of time? No.
  • Meat (beef and pork): Partially thawed, but still firm to the touch? Yes. Still cold (less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit) with some ice crystals still present? Yes. Completely thawed at room temperature for less than three hours? No... Cook thoroughly then serve or refreeze. Completely thawed and warmed to room temperate for a prolonged period of time? No.
  • Variety meats (heart, liver, kidney, etc.): Partially thawed, but still firm to the touch? Yes. Still cold (less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit) with some ice crystals still present? No, but safe to refrigerate. Completely thawed at room temperature for less than three hours? No... Cook and serve immediately. Completely thawed and warmed to room temperate for a prolonged period of time? No.
  • Poultry: Partially thawed, but still firm to the touch? Yes. Still cold (less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit) with some ice crystals still present? Yes. Completely thawed at room temperature for less than three hours? No, unless fully cooked before freezing. Completely thawed and warmed to room temperate for a prolonged period of time? No.
  • Fish: Partially thawed, but still firm to the touch? Yes. Still cold (less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit) with some ice crystals still present? Questionable... Better to cook and serve. Completely thawed at room temperature for less than three hours? No, but usable unless odor or color is questionable. Completely thawed and warmed to room temperate for a prolonged period of time? No.
  • Shellfish: Partially thawed, but still firm to the touch? Yes. Still cold (less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit) with some ice crystals still present? No... But safe to refrigerate. Completely thawed at room temperature for less than three hours? No, but can cook and serve if appearance and color are "normal." Completely thawed and warmed to room temperate for a prolonged period of time? No.
  • Soup: Partially thawed, but still firm to the touch? Yes. Still cold (less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit) with some ice crystals still present? Yes, unless they contain meat, poultry or fish. Completely thawed at room temperature for less than three hours? No. Completely thawed and warmed to room temperate for a prolonged period of time? No.
  • Ice cream, sherbet: Partially thawed, but still firm to the touch? Yes. Still cold (less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit) with some ice crystals still present? No, but safe to eat immediately. Completely thawed at room temperature for less than three hours? No. Completely thawed and warmed to room temperate for a prolonged period of time? No.
  • Casseroles, stews and soups: Partially thawed, but still firm to the touch? Yes. Still cold (less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit) with some ice crystals still present? Yes, unless they contain meat, poultry or fish. Completely thawed at room temperature for less than three hours? Completely thawed at room temperature for less than three hours? No, but safe to eat if heated thoroughly. Completely thawed and warmed to room temperate for a prolonged period of time? Completely thawed and warmed to room temperate for a prolonged period of time? No.

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