It’s the classic question: can you refreeze meat that thawed at room temperature?
The answer is not a simple yes or no. In fact, it all depends on how long it was unrefrigerated and what type of meat it is.
For example, if you left your chicken out for two hours in hot weather, chances are it’s going to be unsafe to refreeze.
But if you had some beef that was only out for five minutes in cool weather, then go ahead and give it another shot!
In short, you can refreeze meat thawed at room temperature as long as it is not left on the counter for too long. As per USDA, meat that is thawed at room temperature for more than two hours should not be refrozen.
True, there’s a risk when refreezing. But the risks are much greater if you don’t refreeze it!
What happens when meat refreezes?
Refreezing meat is actually not as bad for it as you may think. Here’s what happens:
Refreezing partially thawed meat actually helps to protect it from lethal bacteria.
The reason for this is that when the meat thaws, some of the water molecules found in the meat actually move outside of it.
Refreezing causes those water molecules to come rushing back in, which ends up refreezing and forming a protective layer around the rest of the food.
For example, if you leave a steak out on the counter, it’s more likely to have harmful bacteria like E. coli grow inside of it.
Refreezing that same steak actually grows another layer around the food, making it less vulnerable to bacteria!
So when refreezing meat thawed at room temperature, you should be even safer than usual.
What refreezing does to your meat?
There’s another thing that refreezing does: it changes the texture of your meat.
When you freeze raw meat for the first time, it locks in the moisture and creates a “melt-in-your-mouth” texture.
Refreezing causes some ice crystals to form in the meat. This helps to change the texture of it, making it feel somewhat tougher and less juicy.
How long should you refreeze thawed meat?
If your meat was out for a few minutes or hours at most, then you should be fine to stick it back in the freezer as soon as possible!
In general, you will want to refreeze meat frozen at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below within two hours.
You can refreeze it right away, but the best practice is to put the food back in the freezer and check on it every hour.
Refreezing it after an hour or so should be fine as well.
Why is refreezing meat thawed at room temperature bad?
There’s no denying that refreezing meat is a risky process.
In fact, according to the USDA, when you refreeze raw meat that thawed at room temperature, there’s an increased risk of foodborne illness and more harmful bacteria growth.
This includes things like Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria.
As a result, these bacteria can cause illness, damage to your body and even death.
So it’s important that you never refreeze meat thawed at room temperature.
However, that’s only if it was out for any amount of time – not two hours or less!
Can you refreeze meat thawed in the refrigerator?
This is a huge question that everyone always seems to have. In short, yes you can refreeze meat thawed in the fridge!
Typically, we do this before we start cooking. For example, you may want to thaw a chicken breast in the fridge overnight before you cook it.
And as long as you don’t let it sit out for more than a few hours in a cool area (like your fridge), you can refreeze it the next day!
Is frozen meat left out overnight safe?
When refreezing meat that was thawed at room temperature overnight, you are increasing your chances for foodborne illness.
But there’s actually another thing you need to watch out for when it comes to letting your meat sit around: the bacteria from your hands.
As soon as you touch raw meat, those harmful germs start getting on your hands.
Then, once you touch a surface that doesn’t get cleaned properly, those germs will spread from your hands all throughout your kitchen!
That means if you grab something like a doorknob or some other part of the door, then bacteria from raw meat will be on it.
And when someone else touches that same door and they aren’t aware of the germs, they’ll get sick too!
So it’s really important that we’re careful when handling raw meat.
If you want to let your meat sit overnight in the refrigerator or on a counter, make sure you clean up any spills and stay away from doorknobs and other surfaces that can easily be touched by other people.
Can you cook meat that was left out overnight?
Yes, you can cook meat that was thawed overnight at room temperature.
However, it’s important to realize that the longer meat has been out of the fridge at room temperature, the bigger risk there is for foodborne illness.
That means even if you cooked your steak or chicken breast right away after thawing it, there’s still a chance you could get sick.
And since you don’t know how long it was out and what that thawed meat touched, it’s best not to eat it.
Even if the food did touch other surfaces outside of the fridge, make sure you wash your hands before preparing any type of food in order to reduce the risk factors for yourself and others.
Does refreezing cooked thawed meat work?
If the meat was already cooked, then it shouldn’t be a problem to refreeze it after it’s been out at room temperature for a few hours.
That said, with the first two factors about foodborne illness and bacteria growth in mind, you should think twice about refreezing meat that’s been left out.
Why do people refreeze meat that’s been left out?
In most cases, when you’re refreezing meat that was thawed at room temperature, it’s because you didn’t plan ahead.
Maybe you planned to cook chicken breast for dinner and wanted to start the prep work earlier in the day. But after work, you realize you’re just too tired to start cooking right then.
However, if the chicken was already thawed, you may want to cook it so that it doesn’t have to be thrown away.
So instead of cooking the chicken when you get home from work, you decide to refreeze it.
For meat that’s cooked and then frozen, you can refreeze it as many times as you want.
But what about raw meat?
For raw meat that’s been frozen and thawed, if it is left out at room temperature for less than two hours total, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says it should be safe to refreeze.
However, if the raw meat has been left out for more than two hours at room temperature, it should not be refrozen.
What if your meat is partially cooked?
The same regulations about refreezing apply to partially cooked meat.
For example, you could prepare a roast and cook it halfway through the night before, and then finish cooking it in the morning for dinner.
But instead of cooking all that roast at once, you decide to freeze half of it and cook the rest later.
If you were to freeze it immediately after cooking, this would be considered a partial-thaw.
And if your meat is partially thawed by putting it in cold water, then that counts as an even more extreme form of freezing: a ‘flash-freeze’.
For any type of partially cooked meat that has been refrozen, it should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
Can you refreeze raw meat thawed in the microwave?
For any type of unpasteurized animal products, the USDA recommends cooking them to 165 degrees Fahrenheit then immediately putting any leftovers on ice or into a refrigerator until they can be reheated to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
This is a safety precaution for foodborne illness, but it also prevents bacteria from growing inside the meat when it’s being thawed at room temperature.
But despite this recommendation and other recommendations from the USDA, some people still choose to thaw their meat in the microwave.
If you ever thaw your meat in the microwave and plan on refreezing it, this first step is important.
Start with a clean plate or dish, then put your frozen pieces of meat on top.
Next, place them back into the microwave and cook them for two minutes at full power (high), then let them stand for one minute.
If your meat isn’t thawed yet, continue this process for at least another two minutes.
After you’ve cooked the meat and it’s still frozen solid, you can remove from the microwave and put it in cold water to start thawing once again.
You can refreeze meat thawed at room temperature, but it is not recommended.
If you are going to do so, make sure that the meat has not been on the counter for more than two hours.
If the meat was thawed for more than two hours at room temperature, you better cook it or discard it rather putting it back into the freezer.
Also, when refreezing, make sure the freezer’s internal temperature is below 0 degrees Fahrenheit and that each piece of meat has been wrapped in a polyethylene bag or sealed within an airtight container before being placed into the freezer.
This will help protect your food from any bacteria growth during the defrosting process as well as maintain its quality for longer periods of time.
Learn more about refreezing foods here.