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Can You Thaw and Refreeze Meat Safely? The Cold Truth.

Posted in Our Blog on June 7, 2024

Keeping temperature sensitive foods like meat, eggs, and dairy are a huge part of food safety. Keeping hot things hot and cold things cold is a no-brainer. But what about freezing and thawing? Can you thaw and refreeze meat safely?

Short answer…


But with many caveats.

Let’s discuss why.

Why Would You Need to Thaw and Refreeze Meat Safely?

You might be asking yourself, how often does this situation come up. And for some people, it may not come up very often. However, if it does, you want to know that you can do so safely.

For some people, shopping in bulk is a regular occurrence. For others, not so much.

On more than one occasion I have found a great sale on large packages of meat. I have the best of intentions to separate the meat into smaller portions and freeze them when I get home. But sometimes, life gets in the way.

The phone rings and friend that moved away calls to catch up. I realize I have to be somewhere. I get started cooking a meal. Any of these scenarios are possible.

The large package sits on a pan in the fridge. I look at it several days in a row as I open the fridge to pull out an item or put an item back in.

Before long, I give up and put the entire package in the freezer so that it doesn’t go bad.

A problem for another day.

But eventually that day comes. And I am set with a dilemma. Cook all of the meat now? Or break it into smaller packages and freeze it again.

Then I think about it. That meat will need to be thawed again before cooking. Is that safe? How safe is it to repeatedly thaw and refreeze meat like ground beef, pork chops or steak?

Experts Say It is Safe When Thawed Properly, But Quality Will Suffer

Turns out, if thawed properly, it is completely safe to thaw and refreeze meat without issue. However, quality will suffer.

Repeated freezing and thawing meat will affect texture and moisture. The meat will become dryer and less tasty, says Donald W. Schaffner, PhD, an extension specialist in food science and professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

While your stomach may not suffer, your tastebuds might.

Safety is About Temperature

If you have followed this blog or kept any eye or ear open for food safety, you have heard about keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold. This phrase is meant to stress the importance of keeping food outside of the “danger zone.”

The “danger zone” should do more than illicit images of a flight montage from Top Gun. When it comes to food, the danger zone is that happy range where bacteria can exponentially grow and reproduce.

Great for the bacteria that get to stretch their legs and replicate. Not so great for the potential consumer likely to get sick from all of that aforementioned legroom.

The temperature range between 40 °F and 140 °F is that sweet spot we want to avoid in order to prevent any bacteria already present in the meat from reproducing.

How NOT to Thaw and Refreeze Meat

When it comes to thawing meat, you have several options. But there are some activities that you will want to avoid.

One of the biggest no-no’s is thawing on the counter or in the sink. You’d be surprised how quickly bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella can multiply at room temperature, says Taylor C. Wallace, PhD, adjunct professor of the department of nutrition and food studies at George Mason University in Virginia.

The Safest Way to Thaw and Refreeze Meat is in the Refrigerator

Experts say the safest way to thaw food, especially meat, is in the refrigerator. A fridge set to a temperature below 40 °F allows food to thaw but remains outside of the dreaded danger zone.

Ideally, you will want your refrigerator set to 37 °F to allow for fluctuations in temperature, while still maintaining refrigerated, but not frozen food within it.

When properly thawed in the refrigerator, certain food items such as ground meat, stew meat, poultry, and seafood can hang out there for a day or so before cooking, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Other red meat cuts, such as beef, pork, or lamb roasts, chops, and steaks can remain a little longer. These can stay for three to five days before they need to be cooked.

Cold Water Thawing Method

If you need to thaw meat quickly, the cold water method is a great option. Place meat in a leakproof package or plastic bag and fully submerge it in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes.

While this is a USDA suggested method for thawing, you will want to cook it fairly quickly. Meat thawed using this method should not be refrozen.

Microwave Thawing Method

Another approved thawing method involves your microwave. Using the defrost function, thaw meat in microwave following manufacturer instructions. This method also requires meat to be cooked immediately after. Some parts of the meat may have reached temperatures of 40 °F or higher during defrost, allowing any bacteria already present in the meat to begin to multiply.

Both cold water thawing and microwave thawing require food to be cooked immediately. However, cooked food may be refrozen without issue.

Why is Quality Affected When You Thaw and Refreeze Meat Again?

How exactly is quality affected? Martin Bucknavage, senior food safety extension associate of Penn State’s department of food science has an answer for that.

It all comes down to water.

Meat has a surprisingly high water content. Every time the meat is frozen, the water inside it turns into ice crystals in the cells. This damages the molecular structures within the meat. When it is thawed again, water is released. With each subsequent freeze/thaw cycle more and more moisture is lost.

This can not only affect texture, but also lead to less juicy and rubbery meat.

Additionally, lipid and protein oxidation can occur through these free/thaw cycles. These chemical processes can cause the meat to have an off smell or potentially taste rancid.

Have You Ever Refrozen Food?

As a rule of thumb, I generally use the refrigerator thaw method. According to the experts, I could keep thawing and refreezing this way if needed. For quality, however, it is a good idea to take the time to cook the meat before refreezing or work it into your meals that week.

Stay in Touch with Make Food Safe!

If you’d like to know more about food safety topics in the news, like “Can You Thaw and Refreeze Meat Safely?”, check out the Make Food Safe Blog. We regularly update trending topics, foodborne infections in the news, recalls, and more! Stay tuned for quality information to help keep your family safe, while The Lange Law Firm, PLLC strives to Make Food Safe!

By: Heather Van Tassell (contributing writer, non-lawyer)